SCA 9 declaring a constitutional right to housing

SCA 9 will declare that every Californian has the fundamental right to a standard of living adequate for their health and well-being. Should the measure pass the Legislature, California voters will have the opportunity to vote on this right and ensure that state and local governments recognize housing as a fundamental human right and take action to protect that right. In other words, by recognizing the human right to housing and initiating a moral and legal framework, SCA 9 will help hold governments accountable for ensuring that everyone is affordably and fairly housed. Specifically, SCA 9 states that all Californians have a right to adequate housing and that state and local governments have a joint responsibility to ensure that this right is realized, consistent with available resources, in an expeditious manner.

Right now, housing right is only guaranteed to higher-income Californians due to our housing crisis. As of January 2020, there were an estimated 161,548 Californians experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Additionally, public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2018-2019 school year shows that an estimated 271,528 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year. Over 1.27 million renter households are extremely low-income, and 76% of these households pay over 50% of their income on housing, putting them just one missed paycheck or medical emergency away from experiencing homelessness.

Housing is a key social determinant of health and research indicates that addressing health-related needs of people experiencing homelessness is crucial to accessing and sustaining housing. Ensuring access to stable housing is critical to helping maintain health and reduce unnecessary emergency room use and hospital admissions. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of treating housing as a human right and investing in the resources needed to safely house those who are experiencing homelessness and prevent homelessness for those on the verge of losing their housing. Those without a residence have been unable to follow shelter-in-place orders or even wash their hands, resulting in an increased spread of infection that has placed a burden on the state’s healthcare system and our public health.

People of color are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis, with Black and Latino households more likely to be burdened by housing costs. In order to keep up with housing needs, it’s estimated that 1.2 million more affordable homes are needed by 2030 which is approximately 120,000 per year.

According to international standards, the human right to adequate housing consists of seven elements: (1) security of tenure; (2) availability of services, materials, and infrastructure; (3) affordability; (4) accessibility; (5) habitability; (6) location; and (7) cultural adequacy.

State and local governments can use a wide variety of measures, including market regulation, subsidies, public-private partnerships, and tax policy, to help ensure this right. Government can choose the methods by which it achieves the right, but having the fundamental human right in place creates a moral and constitutional obligation to actually realize the right of adequate housing for all Californians.

Human rights standards require that the state, including its municipalities, takes progressive steps to respect, protect, and fulfill the right, with the maximum available resources, in a non-discriminatory, equitable manner.

Read our support letter for SCA 9

Authors: Gonzalez (D, SD 33)

Co-Sponsors: (ACCE) Action, United Teachers Los Angeles

Suggested action: to hold cities accountable for housing, make it a constitutional right