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California Shelves Repeal of 1950 Housing Law That Stoked Racial Tension

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Article 34, which requires a public vote for new public housing, has limited affordable housing construction for decades and has long been criticized as discriminatory. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

The repeal of a constitutional roadblock to building publicly subsidized housing that has long been criticized as discriminatory was delayed — again — after lawmakers voted Monday to withdraw it from the November ballot.

Had voters passed it, the measure co-authored by state Sens. Benjamin Allen (D-El Segundo) and Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), SCA 2, would have repealed Article 34 of the California Constitution, a nearly 75-year-old provision that requires local voters to approve new public housing before it gets built. California is the only state in the U.S. with such a provision.

Voters previously rejected attempts to repeal Article 34 in 1974, 1977 and 1993. Legislators in 2022 approved putting the latest attempt before voters, but late last month, Allen introduced a measure to remove it from the ballot, saying it lacked the funding required to educate voters about Article 34 and encourage them to approve its repeal.

The withdrawal passed on a 60–2 vote, with 17 senators who did not vote.


“While SCA 2 was one of many efforts to help address the housing crisis, the November’s ballot will be very crowded, and reaching voters will be difficult and expensive,” Allen said in a statement. “In addition, the legislature recently passed my SB 469, which substantially addresses some of the most significant concerns about how Article 34 might be impacting housing production.”

SB 469 clarifies that the use of state affordable housing dollars does not trigger Article 34’s requirement for voter approval. Allen said his focus is on determining whether these efforts are “making a significant dent in addressing the problem,” adding that quickly building more affordable housing is a priority.

Backed by the California Real Estate Association, the forerunner to the current California Association of Realtors, Article 34 was first adopted by voters in 1950. Realtors played on voters’ fears that affordable housing would lead to greater racial integration of exclusively white neighborhoods.

CAR issued a formal apology in 2022 for its past support of Article 34, with association President Otto Catrina condemning the actions and vowing to address the legacy of its “discriminatory policies and practices.”

The organization “remains a strong supporter of the repeal of Article 34 … which adds unnecessary hurdles and costs to the creation of affordable housing,” CAR spokesperson Sanjay Wagle said in a statement.

Wagle noted that a majority of Californians support repealing the provision but cited research showing a voter education campaign would be needed to explain the article’s effects.

“The cost of such a campaign in an election year with so many initiatives on the ballot made this campaign more costly and difficult, thus making it more logical to pursue a repeal on a future ballot,” Wagle wrote. “We thank Sen. Allen and Sen. Wiener for their efforts on this repeal effort and look forward to working [with] them and other stakeholders on this issue in the future.”

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