By Purushottam Dhakal, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA:- Across the U.S., both the state and federal moratoria on evictions for non-payment of rent was set to expire on September 30, 2021. This situation has placed more than 2 million adult renters at the imminent risk of eviction, of which 880,000 people alone live in California.
Carolina Reid of University of California (UC) Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, cited these August findings by the Urban Institute at a panel convened by Ethnic Media Services on September 14, 2021.
“We’re really in this ‘perfect storm’ where housing costs in the state are vastly outstripping incomes and Covid pandemic is promising to make the situation worse,” Reid said. “And there is currently no apparent political will to further extend eviction moratoria.”
Meanwhile, although the federal government this spring allocated $46.5 billion to provide rent relief to Covid affected households — enough to pay everyone’s outstanding debt two times over — only $6.2 billion has been disbursed nationwide.
California, through its ‘Housing Is Key’ (housing.ca.gov) program, has distributed 14.3 percent of its federal funding.
The program is available to both landlords and renters, who are protected from eviction while their cases are being reviewed.
Samir Gambhir of UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute, addressed some long-standing, historical origins of the housing shortage.
One is zoning laws that allow only single-family dwellings to be built in certain neighborhoods. This limits the supply of new housing and increases costs as demand continues to outstrip availability.
The result is nothing but the “de-facto” segregated neighborhoods.
The Institute’s research found that more than 80 percent of U.S. metro regions were more segregated in 2019 than in 1990.
For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area, his research found that 82 percent of the residential-zoned land in San Francisco is restricted to single-family dwellings. In such areas, the occupancy is 55 percent white – as opposed to 36 percent white in low single-family-zoning areas.
Single-family zones typically have higher home values ($100,000 on average), higher median incomes ($34,000 higher on average), half as many children qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch at schools – 26 percent versus 52 percent, and higher home ownership rates.
In the United States, home ownership has long been acknowledged as a key path to inter-generational wealth.
“Cities with high levels of single-family zoning have greater resources in virtually every statistic we were able to measure,” Gambhir said. “Where we live essentially determines our life outcomes.”
Homelessness rises almost in lockstep with housing unaffordability, said Ned Resnikoff of UCSF’s Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative.
Whites are 72 percent of the state’s population and 54 percent of them are homeless. Blacks stand for 7 percent of the state population but have 31 percent of the homelessness. The corresponding ratio for the Hispanic/Latino population of the state is 39 to 32 percent, while for Asians, it is 16 to 2 percent. For American Indians, it is 2 to 4 percent, while for Pacific Islanders, it is 1 to 1 percent.
One of the root causes for this, as Resnikoff would observe, is the prevalence of structural racism.
A lot of the rules that have led to housing being so unaffordable in California were part of a deliberate attempt to keep various communities in California mostly or exclusively white.
“Those include restrictive zoning rules and redlining,” Resnikoff said. “Article 34 of the state constitution passed in the 1950s makes it significantly harder to build low-income housing.”
“You can have single-family housing existing side-by-side with low income housing,” said Matthew Lewis of Berkeley’s Yimby, pointing to his own neighborhood’s mix of housing and income levels. Those diversities, however, cannot be replicated under regulations today.
Lewis also described Los Angeles’ 1972 move to protect its “suburbia within the city atmosphere” by “downzoning” buildings allowed in the formerly multiple-zoned neighborhoods.
From being zoned for 10 million people, Los Angeles went to 4.1 million. “They cut the number of homes, it was legal to build, by half.”
Lewis also cited an Environmental Impact Report produced when San Francisco was making similar changes in the 1970s. It anticipated “possible displacement of certain types of households” and impacts on “the availability and cost of housing in San Francisco.”
“This happened throughout the state of California,” Lewis said.
But the problems now extend beyond zoning limitations, he noted. “Too many Californians now need subsidies which takes a lot of money.”
In California, Prop 13 in 1978 largely froze property tax increases on existing structures. But new homes pay a current tax rate when they come to the market.
“You need a huge number of market-rate homes to generate the revenues you need to subsidize the affordable homes,” Lewis said. “You have to have both.”
In a hopeful sign for more housing stock, California’s state legislature on August 26, 2021 approved a measure that would allow for the construction of duplex buildings on land parcels previously zoned for only single-family dwellings, and also allow property owners to divide their parcels into two, possibly allowing for a second duplex. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on September 16, 2021.
“While we’re so far behind, just allowing duplexes and ‘fourplexes’ is an incredibly important step, but it doesn’t close the gap,” Lewis said.
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