With California experiencing a housing crisis and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for affordable housing in Humboldt County is greater than ever. But thanks to Article 34 of the California Constitution, developing affordable housing projects can be a complicated endeavor for local governments.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
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• MEASURE C: Ranked-Choice Voting Would Bring More Democracy and Better Democracy to Eureka, Backers Say, but Citizens Will Have to Get Used to a New Way to Cast and Count Votes
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• MEASURE F: Arcata Fire District Again Proposes a Special Tax Increase to Help Fund Operations, But Some Say It’s Asking Too Much
• MEASURE H: Eureka Doubles Down on Local Sales Tax, Hoping to Boost Revenue for Roads, Homelessness and More
The article, added to the constitution in 1950 by the passage of Proposition 10, states that “no low rent housing project” — meaning any dwellings for low-income people, funded in whole or in part by the state or federal government — shall be “developed, constructed, or acquired in any manner by any state public body” without approval of the voters.
Many argue that Article 34 amendment is antiquated, inequitable and appealed to racist motives by attempting to prevent the integration of neighbors in the 1950s. There were efforts to place a measure on the November ballot proposing a repeal of the article. However, the measure failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote from the California State Assembly for referral.
So, at least for now, local governments are forced to seek voter approval for their proposed increases in low-income housing projects. This election voters in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt County will vote on Measure I and voters in the City of Arcata will find the similar Measure B on their ballots. Both would — if passed by a simple majority — allow the county or city to approve more affordable housing projects and obtain the necessary state and federal funding for both development and rental subsidy programs.
If passed by Arcata voters, Measure B would increase the city’s cap on affordable housing units from five percent to 7.5 percent. The current five percent cap was established by the passage of Measure L in 1992. So it should not come as much of a surprise that the city is very close to hitting that limit, which allows for only 19 more affordable housing units to be built. If passed, this increase would allow for the development of roughly 220 additional affordable housing units in Arcata, according to the city’s website.
The Arcata City Council unanimously approved the measure for the ballot during a meeting in May. During that meeting Arcata Community Development Director David Loya explained that the city proposed a 2.5 percent increase because it felt that a relatively low increase would be more likely to gain voter approval.
In addition to the council, supporters of the measure include Executive Director of Arcata House Partnership Darlene Spoor, CEO of Open Door Community Health Centers Tony Starr and Nezzie Wade of Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA).
Wade told the Outpost that approval of this measure is critical to address the housing crisis, adding that last year’s point in time count identified
over 14,000 nearly 1,500 people living unhoused in Humboldt County, more than double the previous count. And that number, Wade said, is likely an undercount.
“We need housing badly,” Wade said in a phone interview Wednesday. “At this point, there’s no place for people. We don’t even have safe places for people to shelter during a pandemic.”
Wade added that the community needs to look beyond low-income housing and search for alternatives to help the unhoused population, many of whom have no income and are not eligible for low-income housing. However, once a person does have the resources to move from, say, a shelter, into something more permanent, there needs to be low-income housing for them to move into. The ability to receive state and federal funding and to build those housing projects is a critical component to helping keep people from ending up back on the streets.
“We have a moral obligation to take care of people who are in our community,” Wade said.
No argument has been submitted against Measure B and the measure would not include an increase in taxes.
This measure is for the many voters living in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt County, and would allow the county to obtain state and federal funding for the development of up to 2.5 percent of the existing units in the unincorporated areas of Humboldt.
This would be roughly 872 units, Second District Supervisor Estelle Fennell told the Outpost. Fennell signed on the argument in favor of the measure and says that it is absolutely necessary to allow the county to pursue state and federal funding to construct housing for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.
“It’s frustrating when people come to the county and ask for housing and we’re in the position where we cannot provide funding,” Fennell told the Outpost in a recent interview. “This would allow the county to become more involved in the development of housing.”
With the high prices of land, building materials and labor in the area, Fennell said it is very difficult to find developers that can afford to build a housing project without government funding, and the county is not in a position to put up the money for these projects.
To explain the situation the county is in now, Fennell gave the example of the county-owned property on Lucas Street in Eureka, which the Board of Supervisors has been trying to sell for development. Because the board currently is unable to leverage funding for a project there, it is very difficult to find a bidder. Measure I would “remove that barrier,” Fennell said.
There have been no arguments submitted against the Measure I and it also comes at no fiscal impact to the voters. The only concern Fennell has, she said, is that some residents may not like the idea of low-income housing developments near their property.
It is important to note then that this measure does not approve the development of any specific project and all proposals would still need to go through the usual approval process before it could be built. The same is true for Measure B.
“All this does is allow us to leverage funding,” Fennell said. “Every project would have to go through all of the processes. This would be a win-win situation for Humboldt County.”
CORRECTION: This article previously misstated the number of unsheltered people counted in last years point in time count. The Outpost regrets the error.