San Francisco, CA— YIMBY Law and YIMBY Action support San Mateo County’s effort to convert a hotel into permanent supportive housing in Millbrae, CA. On January 8th, 2024, YIMBY Law answered a lawsuit filed by the City of Millbrae against San Mateo County wherein the city uses Article 34 of the California Constitution to argue the project should not move forward without a vote. YIMBY Law aims to defend the homes and ensure dozens of unhoused families and seniors have stable, affordable homes. YIMBY Law and YIMBY Action condemn the City of Millbrae for attempting to halt the project.
“Some Millbrae officials will pretend they’re being reasonable here, but there’s no getting around it: they’re using an archaic, racist law to block affordable homes for our unhoused neighbors,” said Jess Hudson, volunteer leader at Peninsula for Everyone, a chapter of YIMBY Action. “As a resident of Millbrae, I’m disgusted by this decision to waste city funds in order to leave our most vulnerable out in the cold. The families and seniors waiting to be housed in my neighborhood deserve access to stable, affordable homes just like everyone else.”
On September 12, 2023, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved the plan to purchase and convert a La Quinta Inn and Suites into permanent supportive housing for unhoused families and seniors. The plan would use state funds from Project Homekey to finance the project.
The proposal was met with swift and livid opposition from NIMBYs who used common yet offensive talking points to express their opinions. Many cited safety concerns for the neighborhood and surrounding schools, despite not having evidence that these concerns are substantiated. The City of Millbrae supported the opposition by filing a lawsuit to block the plan on November 13, 2023. On January 8, 2024, YIMBY Law answered the lawsuit to defend the project and ensure dozens of unhoused families and seniors have access to affordable homes in the community.
The City of Millbrae is using Article 34, a provision in the California constitution that passed as a state ballot measure in 1950, in its argument to attempt to block these homes. The provision requires local governments to put projects up for a community vote before developing, buying, or funding “low-rent housing.” Article 34 serves as a de facto ban on public or social housing in the state, though voters will have the choice to repeal it on the November ballot thanks to a YIMBY-supported bill authored by Senator Ben Allen and passed in 2022.
Article 34 was a reaction to the federal Housing Act of 1949, which banned racial segregation in public housing. Many white communities expressed racist fears about public housing and neighborhood integration when the law passed, and Article 34 has since blocked countless affordable homes from being built in California. It has also created expensive and often prohibitive barriers for nonprofit developers that rely on public funding to build and operate affordable housing communities.
If the City of Millbrae prevails in its lawsuit and Article 34 is not repealed in November 2024, this project along with others like it will continue to face exorbitant fees and barriers by requiring expensive and time-consuming community approval. This will effectively block thousands of affordable homes from being built or converted for the people who need it most. This is particularly egregious in light of California’s classist and racist history of housing policies that have blocked poor Californians and especially Californians of color from buying and renting affordable homes in the state.
YIMBY Action and its California chapters will support the effort to repeal Article 34 in the November election. YIMBY Law will continue to defend the county’s efforts to convert the site into permanent supportive housing for San Mateo County’s unhoused families and seniors.
“Our unhoused neighbors deserve access to stable, affordable homes, full stop,” said Leora Tanjuatco Ross, Organizing Director of YIMBY Action. “Article 34 is a racist scar in our state constitution. It’s time to get rid of it so we can achieve housing abundance and affordability in California.”