We must do more as a state to guarantee short-term relief and build out long-term structures to lessen the negative impacts of COVID-19 and prepare to better respond to future pandemics. Millions of people are suffering, and we need our government to take bold action to provide the care and support we need.
LA has the least affordable housing market in the US. According to the California Center for Jobs and the Economy, our district is considered severely cost burdened. We have the 5th lowest household median income, and over 52% of us are spending more than 30% on housing costs.
Even among individuals who qualify for public housing, accessing subsidized housing is difficult. There is an estimated waitlist of over 10 years to get a Section 8 voucher in LA; accessing units owned by local housing authorities also have multi-year waits. Many affordable units are becoming more expensive, and developers are more often building luxury apartments than affordable ones. Some estimates suggest that LA is already short over 500,000 affordable units to meet existing demand. We currently simply do not have the stock of affordable housing that we need to meet demand.
This affordability crisis is contributing to increased gentrification in our communities. This is another form of systemic racism and structural violence. Gentrification is exacerbated by different factors. Often times, our communities will fight for certain improvements for decades – from cleaner air to increased public transit infrastructure – and these improvements will in turn increase housing costs and draw in wealthier crowds from other areas, forcing many community members to leave. It is important to address how affordability and gentrification impact both households and communities.
Many parts of District 64 face higher eviction rates than the rest of Los Angeles. Neighborhoods like Compton and Willowbrook experience 3-4 times the number of evictions as the LA average. These rates do not even account for informal evictions or households who leave their housing for fear of eviction. In California, over 1.5 million people have faced eviction proceedings in the past 3 years. There are many reasons someone might be evicted, including at-fault and no-fault evictions. At-fault evictions include when a tenant is unable to pay rent, whether because of rent increases or wage loss. No-fault evictions include when the eviction is not due to actions of the tenant but because of changes by the landlord.
Evictions have numerous negative impacts on individuals and households. Evictions negatively impact physical and mental health, including contributing to higher rates of depression and suicide. Many children experience disruption in their schooling which can contribute to lower school performances and less earning potential over the long-term. Evictions cause significant harm in our society.
There are over 58,000 people experiencing homelessness across LA County. This includes many children; the LA Unified School District identified over 15,000 students. While this is an issue that affects everyone, it doesn’t impact everyone equally. Systemic racism plays a large role in our experiences of housing and homelessness. For example, while Black people only represent 9% of LA’s overall population, they account for over 1/3 of the homeless population. It is clear that homelessness it not just an individual’s issue, but a systemic one.
There are many reasons why someone might become homeless, including evictions, employment loss, emotional trauma, mental health, substance abuse, and more. Across the US, nearly 40% of people have less than $400 in savings. With exorbitant housing costs across LA and California, this means that many people are one paycheck away from homelessness.
Homelessness causes many traumas. For example, women experiencing homelessness are much more likely to experience gender-based violence. According to research by the Downtown’s Women Center, 91% of unhoused women have experienced physical or sexual abuse; nearly 50% of unhoused women had experienced violence within the last month. Even for women who elected to stay in shelters, 35% of them experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past year, contributing to the reason why over 1/3 of the women they spoke to felt unsafe in shelters. In addition, many people experiencing homelessness face other challenges and traumas. It is critical that we critically analyze what policies contributed to this growth and inequity in homelessness.
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In the short-term, it is critical that we provide immediate relief to individuals and families. This means that we must:
We must also be careful to create evidenced-based plans with public health experts for re-opening businesses, schools, and other spaces across California. In particular, we need to promote clear and simple public health directives that will help us manage risk, including increasing the use of socially distanced outdoor gatherings to replace indoor ones and mandating the use of masks. We must center equity as we approach the question of reopening: communities of color have been hardest hit by COVID-19 across California and the rest of the US, and it is crucial that we put into place policies that will address this inequity.
In the long-term, we must build robust supports to provide long lasting relief and build out structures that will make us more resilient in the face of future pandemics. Fatima will fight to: