Should Californians have a right to housing? New constitutional amendment could guarantee it

Housing is California’s biggest challenge, but would a constitutional right to a place to live make a difference for state residents?

Assemblyman Matt Haney, D-San Francisco, wants to give voters a chance to add an amendment guaranteeing housing. Haney’s measure would push state and local governments to “take progressive steps to fully realize that right,” according to a bill fact sheet.

This could involve tenant protections, rental subsidies, public housing and progressive taxes.

“If you look out at what’s happening in our state, not only is it intuitive that housing is a fundamental right for all of us and our families and our neighbors, but it’s also intuitive that our state is failing right now,” Haney said at a Wednesday news conference.

Haney’s Assembly Constitutional Amendment 10 is not the first attempt to enshrine a right to housing in California’s constitution. As an assemblyman representing Oakland, Attorney General Rob Bonta authored a similar bill in 2020 that died during a chaotic legislative session stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bonta introduced his measure after a group of women and children used the right to housing as their basis for occupying a vacant West Oakland home in late 2019. The women were protesting the glut of empty homes in the city created by real estate investors investors who left them vacant.

Former Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood, also authored a bill that session declaring a right to housing and directing state agencies to provide places to live for families and children who could become homeless. Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Burke’s measure in September 2020, citing the high cost of implementation.

If Haney’s bill is successful, California would be the only state to create a constitutional right to housing, although several cities and counties, including San Diego, have established one. New York and other states do have a right to shelter, slightly different than guaranteeing housing.

Carlos Marquez, executive director of ACLU California Action, said the amendment would give Bonta a “public right of action” to go after communities that are not upholding residents’ right to housing.

In the long term, it would push lawmakers to move forward and set up a framework to enact the right to housing.

“What the right sets in motion is, ‘Ok Legislature, how are you now going to codify said benchmarks around, funding around and timetable around how we’re actually going to implement this right?’” Marquez said after the news conference.

Groups like the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment say making housing a right would “legally obligate local and state governments to ensure, fulfill and protect that right.”

“ACA 10 would recognize that every Californian has the fundamental human right to adequate housing on an equitable and nondiscriminatory basis,” the organization said in a news release.

When asked how this session’s campaign would be different from those in previous years, Amy Schur of ACCE said the COVID-19 pandemic hampered past efforts. “We didn’t have an organized effort to move it either year,” Schur said at the news conference.

“We didn’t even really try, because we simply didn’t have the capacity, because of the pandemic. We were focused on getting people’s rent canceled so we could keep them in their homes. And while that struggle, of course, continues, we this year have made this a top priority.”

Original article with video

Download message of UN Special Rappoerteur on adequate housing Rajagopal Balakrishnan to Californians

Photo: This file photo shows a homeless encampment on the south side of Oceanside Boulevard near Interstate 5, in San Diego. Source: Bill Wechter / For the U-T).