Racial disparities in access to safe, stable, and affordable housing were present long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit California. People of color are more likely to experience housing cost burdens, homelessness, and housing instability in the state and are less likely to own homes and acquire wealth, due in large part to California’s long history of discrimination in public and private housing markets, structural racism, and government-sponsored segregation. Recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s new Household Pulse Survey, conducted for twelve weeks beginning in the spring of 2020, shows that the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the racial disparities in California’s housing crisis.
The Household Pulse Survey was created to measure the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. One telling question — respondents’ confidence in their ability to pay rent on time — offers a timely and powerful glimpse into how Californians are feeling about their current housing stability. Only one in three Californian renters had high confidence that they could pay August rent on time according to survey results, and people of color were less confident than White renters (see Figure 1). Just 19 percent of Latinx renters, 28 percent of Black renters, and 33 percent of Asian renters were highly confident in their ability to pay August rent, compared to 54 percent of White renters.
This disparity is especially prominent when looking at the data over time. Taking all twelve weeks of survey data available, a larger share of Latinx and Black renters reported having no or slight confidence that they could pay rent on time when compared to their White counterparts (see Figure 2). In the most recent week of data, a staggering 52 percent of Latinx renters and 35 percent of Black renters had no or slight confidence they could pay their coming month’s rent.
What is causing these disparities in housing security? People of color are more likely to work in industries vulnerable to layoffs and furloughs brought on by COVID-19 — such as food service, retail, and hospitality — and have experienced the steepest job losses. Seven out of ten Latinx residents, for example, have experienced loss of employment income since the state’s stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March (see Figure 3). Furthermore, many of California’s renters who have lost wages in recent months were struggling well before this crisis and are unlikely to have the financial buffer needed to weather the pandemic.
Failing to address the housing instability experienced disproportionately by people of color due to the COVID-19 pandemic will only exacerbate the racial disparities already present in California’s housing crisis. These findings underscore the need for Congress to provide immediate relief in the form of extended unemployment insurance, rental assistance and additional resources as described in the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act approved by the House and awaiting Senate action.
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