Embedding Equity at the Heart of California’s Housing Agenda
Written by California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Lourdes Castro Ramírez.
To solve a problem, you must first believe that the problem is solvable.
For complex challenges that have been around for decades, that’s not always easy. It often requires a leap of faith.
In California, we believe every person deserves a dignified, stable, and affordable place to call home.
Despite the scale of our housing insecurity and affordability challenges, California is laser-focused on solving this issue by working with our local and federal partners and in a way that addresses historically underserved and marginalized communities that have been adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.
As Secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency (BCSH), I am proud of our work to embed equity in our policies, programs, and practices as we expand housing options and work together to create healthy, equitable, and thriving communities.
Why are we having significant housing challenges, you might ask?
The high cost of housing is at the heart of the issue.
Housing prices have skyrocketed across the nation.
Rents are rising faster than incomes, which puts more people at risk of losing their homes.
And high housing costs create greater hardship for renters, particularly low- income households.
In California, 52-percent of renter households pay more than 30-percent of their income on housing.
For families with extremely low-income, this is an even more significant challenge. Almost 90-percent of those households spend more than half of their income on housing costs.
And many of these households are Black or Latino or headed by women.
Families are often one small, unexpected expense away from losing their housing.
Housing vouchers are highly effective at reducing housing instability and at improving outcomes for families and children. However, federal housing vouchers reach less than one in every five eligible low-income Californian households.
In summary, we have a demand and supply housing imbalance and for decades, there’s been a lack of investments in production and subsidies to reduce the cost of homes, particularly for low-income renter households.
The Newsom Administration and the state Legislature have boldly prioritized housing — stepping up with land use policies to remove barriers to development, developing innovative programs, and providing funding to match the scale of the challenge. The emergence of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and a more intentional focus on the need for racial equity propelled us to address housing instability as an emergency.
Keeping People Housed
During the worst of the pandemic, we stood-up the nation’s largest emergency rent relief program along with the strongest eviction protections — delivering support and relief to the state’s most vulnerable renter households.
We partnered with landlords and engaged over 120 community-based organizations to increase awareness, access, and assistance.
The program has thus far provided nearly $4.4 billion in rent and utility assistance to prevent evictions and keep over 354,000 families housed, that’s nearly 800,000 people!
Including Adam, a Los Angeles County rent relief recipient who struggled financially due to the pandemic and is thankful for the assistance he received.
He said, “I am blessed to have received this assistance. It has helped keep me from being placed in a homeless shelter.”
Stories like Adam’s confirm the significance of enacting eviction protections and providing emergency rental assistance to keep people housed.
We also work with homeowners and lenders to cover missed mortgage payments and property tax debt.
Earlier this year, we opened the California Mortgage Relief Program with funds from the U.S. Treasury.
So far, more than $175 million has been distributed to over 5,500 households.
While we focused on the immediate need of keeping people housed, we have also kept our eyes on addressing long-term issues of underproduction.
Accelerating Housing Production
The state has been deploying the full capacity of our team and strengthening partnerships to accelerate housing production.
One example is Homekey, the state’s nationally recognized hotel-to-housing program administered by HCD.
With funding from the state, local communities have been able to purchase hotels, motels, and vacant buildings and convert them into housing with support for individuals experiencing or at risk of being homeless.
In less than two years, we have funded more than 12,500 units in every region of California. By collaborating closely with federal and local partners — including Tribal communities, rural communities, and public housing authorities –we built much-needed housing faster and more efficiently than ever before.
We are also leveraging the state’s excess properties for affordable housing by working with local jurisdictions to make surplus land available, providing funding for predevelopment and development costs, and offering technical assistance.
And finally, we are continuing to remove barriers to development while creating greater opportunity for emerging and community-based developers.
Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Community Development released its first-ever Multi-Family Finance Super Notice of Funding Availability — -combining four separate funding sources into one application to speed up the construction of housing.
We also set-aside 15% of funds for emerging and community-based developers to build capacity within the real estate development industry.
Housing options for low-income Californians are expanded when we work together across state government to prioritize housing in strategic places and reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions.
Building Resilient Communities
Families forced to move away from jobs and town centers due to housing cost constraints must commute longer distances leading to increased stress, higher household transportation costs, and less time with loved ones.
The Governor’s recent budget includes investments to create more inclusive and sustainable places for people to live, work, learn and play — including the conversion of existing infrastructure and underutilized retail space into climate-sensitive mixed-use locations to enhance the sense of place and community.
As a member of the Strategic Growth Council, I am proud of our cross-sector and cross-agency collaboration to align policies and enhance planning efforts to build resilient, equitable, and healthy communities through the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program, the Transit Oriented Development Program, and Sustainable Transportation Planning Grants, to name a few.
Equity is Guarding Against Hate and Violence
Finally, as we continue expanding housing and building equitable communities, we are doubling down against hate.
Hate has no home in California.
Equity is protecting communities against hate violence and discrimination.
As described in Governor Newsom’s Executive Order, N-16–22, the state must continue to embed equity in policies and practices and expand opportunity for all by addressing disparities for historically underserved and marginalized communities.
Under BCSH, the California Civil Rights Department is implementing a robust anti-hate strategy to provide culturally competent resources and options for people targeted for hate.
This is how we turn a leap of faith, to solve our complex challenges, into actionable policies, programs and practices that create, support, and sustain equity.
California flourishes when we embed equity in our ideas, our resources, our strategies, and our actions. From guarding civil rights, and expanding housing opportunities to protecting consumers, BCSH contributes to improving the quality of life to build a California for All.