Policy Update – OAKLAND: Measure Q – Addressing California’s Racist Housing History

Housing was very much on the ballot in 2022, with thousands of Californians voting on local measures representing different approaches to tackling the housing crisis. The policies that prevailed last November are now shaping the way cities plan, fund, build, lease, and preserve affordable housing. Mercy Housing California (MHC) is taking a closer look at a few of the policies and proposals with the power to make a big difference in addressing our affordable housing shortage.

In the Bay Area, Oakland voters overwhelmingly supported Measure Q, an affordable housing authorization bill that will cut through red tape currently caused by Article 34, a constitutional amendment with a discriminatory history.

Article 34, which was passed in 1950 and remains in effect today, requires a public vote to authorize the construction of any “low rent” or affordable housing in the city where it is being proposed. Today, it is understood as a lasting consequence of California’s legacy of racist urban planning, and the kind of public policy that has exacerbated the state’s racial wealth gap. By authorizing the City of Oakland to build up to 13,000 affordable homes, Measure Q overrides the legal challenges still caused by Article 34.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Article 34 had a major impact on California’s housing supply. No other state constitution included such a provision, and the state was disqualified from a significant amount of federal public housing spending. Today, courts have authorized many loopholes, reducing the impact of Article 34 for most affordable developments to a few legal requirements that cost developers time but are unlikely to derail construction. By voting in Measure Q, Oakland voters have eliminated even these residual impacts of Article 34 on affordable developments in their city.

While the measure does not provide funding or plans for new affordable homes, it sends a strong message by overriding the consequences of a decades-old constitutional amendment designed to keep Californians of color out of well-resourced neighborhoods. In Oakland, where the percentage of Black residents has significantly declined over the last two decades, it is particularly important that officials take every possible step to increase the affordable housing stock and root out racism in land use policies. MHC salutes the Oakland voters who ushered in this positive change and will continue to advocate for the removal of harmful policies such as Article 34.