My View: Will the State Legislature Support Housing As a Fundamental Human Right?

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Sacramento, CA – Housing has been a huge focus of the state legislature for the last several years.  But as I noted in my column on Monday, despite all the work of the legislature and the state, the needle has not really moved on housing.

As UC Davis’ Chris Elmendorf tweeted last September, “Since Yimbys came on the legislative scene circa 2017, California has passed housing laws by the bucketful, yet the state hasn’t moved the needle on overall production.”

Michael Tubbs in an op-ed last spring added, “Despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s historic commitment to ending California’s housing crisis – and the administration’s arm-twisting to try to make local jurisdictions do the right thing – we have not made the progress that Californians need.”

He wrote, “Forty percent of the state’s households now spend more on housing than they can afford, and California is home to more than half of the nation’s unsheltered people.”

Will that start to change?

Possibly.  Last spring, Assemblymember Matt Haney proposed a constitutional amendment that would declare housing to be a fundamental human right in the state of California.

ACA 10 would recognize that:

  • Adequate housing is a fundamental human right in California.
  • State and local governments have an obligation to “respect, protect, and fulfill” this right through progressively implemented measures, to the maximum of available resources.

“Putting this commitment to housing in our constitution brings it up in comparison to other rights that we’ve said are non-negotiable for us, and holds governments and elected officials accountable to do their job,” Haney said at the time. “This constitutional amendment simply says housing is the highest priority and value in our state.”

This week, housing advocates were encouraged by comments by Speaker Robert Rivas during an hour-long conversation hosted by the Public Policy Institute of California and published in CalMatters.

Rivas pushed the legislature “to make more progress,” not only by (as paraphrased by CalMatters) “passing policies that reduce red tape, address impact fees and remove blight but also by encouraging more housing and addressing issues that affect the state’s overall high cost of living.”

Rivas said, “Housing is not a luxury item in this state. Housing should be a human right. Every person deserves a quality and dignified place to live.”

For some that sounded like support for ACA 10.

Housing NOW! Tweeted, “@CASpeakerRivas We completely agree with you!! That’s why we need your support to make housing a constitutional right in California by passing #ACA10!”

ACLU California Action, another supporter of the bill added, “Thank you, @CASpeakerRivas, for affirming the right to housing. We call on the state legislature to support, ACA 10 – a constitutional amendment recognizing that adequate housing is a fundamental human right in California.”

According to ACLU California Action, “Housing is the basis of stability and security for both individuals and families. It forms the center of our social, emotional and sometimes economic lives, and provides a place to live in peace, security and dignity.”

They argue, “Everyone deserves to have a safe, healthy and stable place to call home. But the private for-profit housing market has failed Californians from having that.”

Moreover, “An affordable home should not be a luxury commodity available only to those who are well-off, nor should anyone be priced out of housing and left to deteriorate on our streets or in mass shelters.

“While housing is too often viewed as a mere commodity in the marketplace, housing is most importantly a human right.”

Among the groups co-sponsoring the bill: Abundant Housing LA, ACLU California Action,, Alliance of Californians for Community, Empowerment (ACCE) Action, End Poverty in California (EPIC), Golden State Opportunity, Housing Now, National Homelessness Law Center, PowerCA Action, The Children’s Partnership, and Western Center on Law and Poverty.

As Human Rights Watch noted in a letter in support of ACA 10, “California is at the epicenter of the nation’s housing crisis. Over half of the country’s unsheltered people and thirty percent of all unhoused people live in California, despite the fact that California residents make up only 12% of the national population.

“This is largely due to the state’s skyrocketing housing costs, lack of affordable housing, and stagnating wages. Due to generations of racism in housing policy at all levels, the burdens of the state’s affordable housing shortage fall disproportionately on Black and Latinx residents.”

They argue, “ACA 10 is an essential step toward solving California’s housing crisis. ACA 10 creates an important government obligation to ensure that Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing.”

It will “establish a legal mechanism to hold local and state governments accountable for ensuring that all Californians have access to affordable and adequate housing.”

As Tubbs argued last spring, “Creating a fundamental right to housing is consistent with public will. Indeed, a survey found that 55% of Californians view affordable housing as a community responsibility, and 58% believe affordable housing should be guaranteed. That’s not a surprise – people realize that a safe, secure and productive life is only possible with a home.”

But the legislation faces a tough road.  It would need not only support of the legislature but also support of the voters who would need to ratify it.

Moreover, critics charge that the language of the amendment is “brief and vague,” and “doesn’t specify what a right to housing entails or how it would be enforced.”

As CalMatters noted last spring, “Some critics worry the amendment wouldn’t do much. Others fear it would do too much — with unintended consequences. “

But Haney, who rents his home rather than own it, believes the measure is a game changer.

At a rally at the Capitol he said that “the amendment could influence local planning decisions, such as by empowering lawsuits against zoning rules or policy decisions that restrict affordable housing development. It could also help the state enforce existing pro-housing laws.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Todd Edelman

    ALL for this – isn’t the elephant in the room the lack of a development agency – but also:

    influence local planning decisions [when local real estate interests don’t ensure that city councils keep things status quo], such as by empowering lawsuits [by entities which have the funding and capacity to organize these legal actions] and against zoning rules or policy decisions that restrict affordable housing development [e.g. when City Councils bring bad projects to the voters]. It could also help the state enforce existing pro-housing laws [again, seemingly requiring hundreds of individual entities to support thousands of people who have the time to stand up for their rights].”

    I appreciate that all the candidates for local offices have made comments here.

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