In early August, San Luis Obispo residents will be given the chance to vote on a ballot measure that appears to protect renters and home buyers alike from discrimination – but could actually hurt access to affordable housing.

Following the unanimous repeal of the Rental Housing Inspection Program by the San Luis Obispo City Council earlier this year, a measure was put on a special election ballot that would repeal the inspection program and replace it with unclear legal language that could potentially open the city to lawsuits and, in turn, negatively impact future workforce and affordable housing projects.

The measure, B-17, calls to repeal the former Rental Housing Inspection program, which has already been repealed, and replace it with a provision entitled “Non-Discrimination in Housing.” This sounds like something that everyone could get behind, but, as is often the case, the details and verbiage used in the measure could leave the city open to costly lawsuits.

San Luis Obispo city is – and has always been – governed by state and federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability or genetic information. The proposed measure takes these protections a few steps further and adds “income,” and “inability or ability to own a home” to the list, as well as “status as an owner or renter.”

It is the inconsistent addition of these undefined classes (income, inability or ability to own a home, status as an owner or renter) that the San Luis Obispo city attorney said, in an impartial analysis of the measure, “creates uncertainty as to the effect of the measure on existing law and the operation of the measure.”

The CEOs of Habitat for Humanity, and Peoples’ Self-Help Housing, as well as the executive director of the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo (HASLO), and the president of Friends of 40 Prado-Homeless Foundation have spoken out against the measure, voicing their concerns about the legal interpretation.

“There are a number of affordable housing units included in current and future developments, through the inclusionary program, and we’re afraid to lose that,” HASLO Executive Director Scott Smith, said at a recent Chamber committee meeting.

“The program could be discriminatory based on income,” Smith said, referring to the inclusionary program if the Non-Discriminatory measure passes.

And this is how affordable housing could be hurt. These programs are discriminatory by nature, as they mandate that participants must make under a certain level of income.

The mayor and all four SLO City Council members recently signed a letter saying that the Rental Housing Inspection program “is not coming back,” and if this measure passes, countless taxpayer dollars would be lost in litigation defending the city’s affordable housing regulations against lawyers who would take advantage of the loopholes created by the “legally unrecognized and legally unclear categories” that the measure creates.

While the Chamber advocated against the Rental Housing Inspection Program –  believing that while there is a genuine need to address health and safety in rental properties, the program was overconstructed and expensive – we are urging you to vote no on B-17.

After studying the issue, hearing from both sides, heavy volunteer engagement, and thorough discussion at the committee and board levels, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to oppose Measure B-17.

Affordable housing programs are a vital tool that the city can utilize to help housing be more accessible to all income levels. Without those programs, San Luis Obispo’s housing crisis would worsen for everyone, not just the families, veterans and seniors that those programs serve.

A special mail-in election will be held with ballots being mailed out in July and due by August 22. The SLO Chamber urges residents to vote no on B-17.