As we start to emerge from the pandemic, low-income renters are facing perilous financial circumstances. At the same time, California is experiencing a housing shortage and affordability emergency, leading to more and more people facing housing insecurity. Today we have an important opportunity to reimagine our housing system to support economic inclusion and shared prosperity. Housing can and should be a building block for a better world post-COVID.
According to a study from the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley, 62% of affordable housing tenants who missed a rent payment in April 2020 had not caught up by December 2020. California recently extended the state’s eviction moratorium until September in order to stem the displacement of low-income residents, but this is a stopgap measure that doesn’t address the root of the problem.
The consequences of rental arrears are exacerbated by the state’s insufficient supply of housing. The state has been unable to keep up with population growth since the 1980’s, and California will need to build 180,000 homes per year through 2025 to meet demand according to a recent survey by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Currently, 80,000 homes are built each year. When housing supply does not meet demand, prices increase, and communities suffer.
Solutions must be equity-centered
A recent report revealed that for every 100 households in California that earn an extremely low income, only 24 affordable rental units are available. Concurrently, Black, Indigenous, and Latinx households are far more likely to be paid poverty-level wages than white households, which has profoundly contributed to the fact that more than two-thirds of Californians with unaffordable housing costs are Black, Indigenous or People of Color.
There simply isn’t nearly enough affordable housing in California. According to the California Housing Partnership, 1.97 million of the 5.89 million renter households in California come from the two lowest income groups – extremely low-income (ELI) and very low-income (VLI). Meanwhile, only 668,000 rental homes are affordable and available to households at these income levels, resulting in a shortfall of 1.30 million affordable rental homes.
And once the pandemic started taking its toll on the economy, Black and Latinx renters were far more likely to fall behind on rent than their white counterparts. Black households have been hardest hit by the pandemic: more than 1 in 3 Black households missed a rent payment between April and December of 2020.
Guided by racial equity, we must work together to pass tenant protection and affordable housing policies, as well as aggressively invest in the preservation and production of affordable housing, to prevent a rise in evictions, homelessness, and housing insecurity.
Advancing people-powered housing policy
At the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, we developed the Policy Fund to move tangible solutions to protect tenants and to produce and preserve affordable housing through the process of government at the local level. The world around us is changing rapidly, presenting us with the most complex set of issues facing our region in more than a generation. This is a moment when we can advance equitable policies and solutions that are truly transformative for our communities – for today, and for the next generation of Bay Area residents.
The Policy Fund model strengthens local teams to pursue ambitious policy goals, while bridging people across the region and building momentum and synergy. We help connect local changemakers so that their efforts can be amplified across the region.
The Challenge Grants is the Policy Fund’s inaugural program, supporting tenant protections and affordable housing preservation. During a year of unprecedented challenges, the cohort has made remarkable progress in equitable and community-driven housing policy. With $3.5 million in grant funding, collaboration with over 50 community organizations, and seven dynamic fellows dedicated to this work in local government offices, Challenge Grant teams have drafted and proposed model policies, engaged thousands of local residents, and shown the power of collaboration across sectors and regions.
Launch of the Breakthrough Grants program
Building on the success of the Challenge Grants, the Policy Fund is launching the Breakthrough Grants for Housing Production and Preservation (“Breakthrough Grants”). This program will catalyze policy innovation in building and preserving affordable housing in local communities. In a time of tough COVID-related budget and staffing constraints, the Breakthrough Grants provide increased capacity and tailored technical assistance that will support local breakthroughs in equitable housing solutions.
The program is open to government entities in the Bay Area who apply in partnership with a community organization. The Policy Fund will select a cohort that proposes the most high-impact, yet realistically achievable plans to be a part of the Breakthrough Grants. Each Breakthrough Grant team will receive a support package valued at $500,000, including a Breakthrough Grant fellow who will work for the government partner, two years of grant funding for the community partner, and tailored cohort supports.
Applications are due July 30, 2021 and awards will be announced in the Fall. Be a part of the solution for a more equitable Bay Area and apply today at baysfuture.org/breakthrough-grants