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Senator Scott D. Wiener. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Voters May No Longer Approve Public Housing Projects Under New Bill

A movement to remove voter approval for public housing projects is currently underway in the Capitol

By Evan Symon, December 27, 2019 2:09 am

Article 34 of California’s Constitution requires  local voter approval for public housing projects. However, this may be repealed in 2020 if supporters of a bill backing the repeal get it approved.

The need for more low income housing

Senator Ben Allen. (Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

SCA 1, authored by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Senator Ben Allen (D-Redondo Beach) would have no voter control over project approval, and would be up to county and city officials to approve.

Both Senators have said that Article 34, which was passed in 1950, was approved to counteract the Housing Act of 1949, which banned racial segregation in public housing.

Supporters of SCA 1, who include housing advocates and real estate developers, maintain that the amendment is only proposed because of it’s racial and monetary-level divisiveness. Supporters also say that it would make it easier for lower-income people to have places to live, especially in cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles, which have critically low numbers of available low-income units.

“We have a desperate need for housing of every kind, including subsidized housing or public housing,” said Senator Wiener.

The destructive problems of public housing projects

Conditions of the Pruitt-Igoe Public Housing complex in St. Louis after only twenty years. (Wikipedia)

While it made it harder in recent years to approve large scale housing projects, Article 34, according to those against the bill, also largely saved California from the large number of public housing projects that fell apart in the 1960’s and 1970’s due to local and federal abandonment, such as Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis and the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago.

“People today forget just how rapidly a lot of public housing was demolished after being built,” said Cedric Anthony, a civil engineer who has dealt with apartment construction projects. “Most were thoroughly trashed because of how little was paid. With no security deposit or anything, a lot of projects were gutted in only a decade or two. Architects who designed them were awestruck at how destructive many of the residents were.”

“And since this is public, it often goes to the lowest bidder for, well, everything, so they’ll fall apart faster than usual. A lot of public housing also doesn’t get routine maintenance, so there goes electric, water, sewage – you name it. I’ve seen the aftermath of a few – one of my first ‘field trips’ was to a public housing project they were tearing down in Chicago. I think only a few units had working utilities after twenty years.”

“If California goes through with this, they HAVE to learn from the mistakes of the past. They cannot build large scale for example. They also have to put these places up away from cities but on bus and metro lines. When they were built in cities before it just destroyed neighborhoods with it.”

“It’s scary even talking about this, but California is in a crisis. Everyone is talking about building, and no one is talking about consequences. Senator Wiener and Senator Allen should have to walk through those ruins that are still up before making sweeping change like this.”

Voting in the Capitol and voting across California

While SCA 1 did pass the Senate last year, it still needs approval in the Assembly, as well as requiring the Governor’s signature to be on the ballot for November 2020, where it faces the largest hurdle of all: voter approval. Removal of Article 34 has been up three times before for statewide vote, the last time in 1993. And every time it has been soundly defeated.

“Even with more Democrats here, there’s still not sweeping support for it,” said Lisa Kay, a pollster in San Diego County. Everyone wants cheaper housing, but they’ll lose control of where it goes. They lose a say, they lose a vote. That’s still a hard sell, even in California. And there’s still enough people who don’t want to lose that control and who do not want public housing in their neighborhoods.

It will be interesting to see how they spin that this fall, if it even makes it that far.”

SCA 1 is due to start debate in the Assembly in January.

Evan Symon
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