California’s housing crisis has been trending in the wrong direction for a long time. In recent years, the trend has only accelerated, as the country’s second-highest rents collide with its highest poverty rate. The politics around the housing crisis likewise have been trending toward a breaking point, with a growing sense across the political spectrum that something must be done. The question is whether the people of California — which contains more than half the country’s unhoused population — can find the will and imagination to find humane policy solutions.

Last week, a coalition of groups introduced a bill in Sacramento that would take the important step of establishing a “right to housing” in the state constitution. The measure, ACA 10, would formally recognize “the fundamental human right to adequate housing for everyone in California.” The law further establishes

the shared obligation of state and local jurisdictions to respect, protect, and fulfill this right, on a non-discriminatory and equitable basis, with a view to progressively achieve the full realization of the right, by all appropriate means, including the adoption and amendment of legislative measures, to the maximum of available resources.

Although it does not mandate specific programs or courses of action, the law is a major building block. Proponents believe ACA 10 will spur action by the state and local governments to find muscular approaches to housing the homeless, as well as shoring up the position of those teetering on the edge. The need to help this second group — the housing insecure — has never been more urgent: More than 40 percent of California households and nearly 50 percent of its Black residents spend more on rent than their budget can afford. This means tens of millions of people live in constant fear of a single slip or misfortune that could shut them out of the housing market entirely.

FDR declared “decent housing” a fundamental right of all Americans in his 1944 State of the Union address. Photo: WWII Museum

According to a recent poll, two-thirds of Californians support the bill. This is important, because if ACA 10 passes the legislature — it will be heard in committee soon — voters still will have to approve it by direct vote.

“It is clear that Californians believe housing is a human right,” says Kath Rogers, staff attorney with ACLU of Southern California, one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “This bill represents a shift away from viewing housing as a commodity for profit, and creates an important government obligation to ensure that everyone in our state has access to adequate housing. The coalition behind this bill is committed to the long-term fight.”

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