Despite efforts to help people who have lost work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers say not enough has been done for renters, especially in areas that already had a housing crisis — like San Jose.
Renters will struggle to pay off debt, even with measures like eviction moratoria and increased unemployment benefits from the federal government, according to a recent analysis by the University of California, Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation and Elizabeth Kneebone, the center’s research director and a co-author of the analysis.
“In the near term, there are a lot of households that are struggling with these rent burdens,” Kneebone said Tuesday during a webinar about how the pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis, hosted by Tech Equity Collaborative.
“Even if they’re not facing eviction because of the eviction moratoria, the clock is still ticking as this rent continues to mount,” Kneebone added.
Using census microdata and early job loss projections, researchers estimated nearly 16.5 million U.S. renting households have lost income because of public health measures to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus. That translates to nearly 50 million people.
Already, 7.14 million households struggled to make rent, and the pandemic added another 9.31 million. California — an epicenter for a shortage of affordable housing — accounted for 30% of those households, the nation’s largest share.
Researchers found that Silicon Valley would be California’s hardest-hit metropolitan area to make rent, even with the one-time $1,200 federal stimulus and an added $600 in weekly unemployment insurance. Undocumented immigrants are excluded from those benefits.
In the San Jose area — where as many as three eviction moratoria apply — the median rent is $2,280, leaving affected renters with little income, even after state and federal unemployment assistance.
On top of racial disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths, Latinxs and black residents collectively make up 46 percent of pandemic-affected renters despite comprising about 30 percent of the U.S. population, the study found. Children and young adults also were overrepresented in vulnerable renters, as were prime-age workers, meaning those between 25 and 54 years of age.
Sudden loss of income also translates to differences in who is better prepared to weather the crisis. A 2014 study done in collaboration with the Center for Global Policy Solutions said Latinx and black families had far fewer “liquid assets,” or assets that can quickly be converted to cash. As of 2011, black and Latinx American families averaged $200 and $340 in liquid assets, respectively, compared to $23,000 for white families and Asian families’ $19,500.
That rings true in San Jose, where 32 percent of households in the predominantly Latinx Alum Rock neighborhood did not have sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for three months without income, per 2015 projections by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Meanwhile, 3 percent of households in majority-white Los Gatos fell into that category.
During the call Tuesday, researchers and advocates also agreed that no level of government — local, state or federal — has done enough to ameliorate existing conditions for renters and people experiencing homelessness.
That includes a lack of affordable housing built in the Bay Area and few protections for renters, according to Tony Roshan Samara, a program director for the Oakland-based Urban Habitat social justice advocacy organization. He said the pandemic has created an “eviction time-bomb.” Eviction moratoria, for example, only delay rent payments.
“Every crisis shines a spotlight on the failures of the near past in terms of policy and politics,” Samara said. “Many of the things that renters and tenants have been fighting for — for the last 10 years plus — had they been put in place, may have dampened at least the severity of this crisis.”
The 2008 Great Recession was more drawn out and affected homeowners with foreclosures, said Ben Metcalf, a former Obama administration housing administrator and now the Terner Center’s managing director. Now, renters face the brunt as the virus spreads and government responds, like with the Bay Area’s six-week-old shelter-in-place order.
“In a month or something like that, I think things will play out in a very, very painful way for our low-income tenants,” Metcalf said. “We can ameliorate some of that by forestalling rent payments and asking landlords not to evict, but you can only push that can down the road so far.”