A Proposed Amendment to California’s Constitution to Resolve the Housing Affordability Crisis

Despite much hand-wringing by California politicians and bills in the state legislature with lofty goals and rhetoric, home prices in California continue to set new records. Apartment rental prices also continue to soar in Southern California, the Central Valley, and Northern California

A decades-old crisis of this magnitude demands bold action. California had a Tax Revolt in the 1970s when homes were seized because homeowners could not afford to pay outrageously high property tax increases. Today, California needs an Unaffordable Housing Revolt in the form of a ballot initiative led by Californians to overcome government restrictions on private property rights that artificially constrain housing supply, causing sky-high home and rental prices.

Below is a proposed constitutional amendment that would shift power back to California property owners and away from “stakeholders,” who have used government regulations to either veto housing developments or extract expensive concessions from builders, driving up housing prices beyond the reach of ordinary Californians.

A Proposed Amendment to California’s Constitution to Resolve the Housing Affordability Crisis

The People of the State of California hereby find and declare the following:

  1. Whereas, Californians are suffering from an unprecedented housing affordability crisis caused by state and local government regulations, fees, mandates, and prohibitions that have overly restricted housing supplies and increased home and rental prices to record levels; and
  2. Whereas, California needs about 4 million additional housing units merely to stabilize prices given current conditions; and
  3. Whereas, California issued about 80,000 residential building permits annually during the past 10 years; and
  4. Whereas, 50 years to stabilize housing prices is too long, and by then, California will likely need millions more housing units; therefore, be it

Resolved that the People of the State of California hereby create the following constitutional right to build residential housing, known and cited as the “Affordable Housing Amendment,” to address the housing affordability crisis:

A private individual or private entity has a right to build on privately owned land residential housing that complies with applicable (1) fire codes, (2) structural integrity codes, and (3) public health codes, such as proper sewer and water lines, provided that the building does not violate the terms of an agreement covering the property arising from a private homeowner’s association or a private neighborhood/community association.

At least six months before applying for final development permitting, the owner(s) must publish a “Plan to Build,” defined as a public notice containing blueprints of the project and other application information required by the California Permit Streamlining Act posted on the appropriate city-council website and/or county-board website. This posting begins a six-month period from the date of publication during which any member of the public may negotiate with the owner(s), if each party chooses, voluntary modifications or limits to the project.

At the end of the six-month period for negotiations, a final permit application is submitted for approval. If all required information is submitted and the plan complies with applicable fire codes, structural integrity codes, and public health codes, by-right building permits must be issued within 60 days of submission of a complete final application.

The owner(s) must provide any necessary private roadways, roadway repairs, and/or utility connections. Those costs cannot be offloaded onto third-party residents.

The environment is important to Californians; therefore, the owner(s) must remedy any actual and meaningful environmental damage [tort(s)] directly caused by the owner(s) or the owner’s contractors during construction of the residential housing project, but environmental reviews cannot be used to delay or halt a residential housing project.

Landlords who own property occupied by one or more tenants cannot evict tenants at will to convert a rental property to a condominium, single-family home, tenancy in common, or landlord move-in. Landlords must: (1) fulfill the terms of any rental agreement in force, e.g., a fixed period lease; and (2) abide by requirements of California’s Ellis Act.

Purposes and Intent of the Affordable Housing Amendment

  1. Create a constitutional right to build residential housing that would encourage rapid housing development, while also favoring local decision making
  2. Encourage the formation of private associations to address negative externalities or to pay for commonly held assets
  3. Require that changes to proposed projects be the result of voluntary negotiations, during a limited time period, among the owner(s) and the public (the exceptions being applicable fire codes, structural integrity codes, and public health codes)
  4. Hold the owner(s) responsible for any actual and meaningful environmental damage imposed on others as a result of building the project

The Affordable Housing Amendment reaffirms a simple, yet fundamental, individual freedom: People should be allowed to build housing on private land. Private property rights derive from people’s natural rights to life and liberty, and are necessary to sustain and enhance our lives. It is immoral, therefore, to use government force to stand between someone who wants housing and someone who is willing to build housing for them on privately owned land while complying with basic health and safety codes.

[This article originally appeared on May 20, 2022. For more information on California’s housing affordability crisis, see How to Restore the California Dream: Removing Obstacles to Fast and Affordable Housing Development.

I welcome constructive suggested revisions to the proposed constitutional amendment. Please submit suggestions below in the comments section. Anyone interested in moving the initiative forward, with thoughts on funding sources, please contact me.]

Lawrence J. McQuillan is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation at the Independent Institute. He is the author of the Independent book California Dreaming.
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