"A Minority Publication"

What Will California do About the Rent?

Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

California has a huge number of renters impacted by the novel coronavirus.

By Matt Levin, CalMatters

Every first of the month, California’s past due rent bill gets bigger.

As the state enters May sheltering in place for the seventh straight week to stop the spread of COVID-19, nearly1 in 5 California workers have filed for unemployment, with millions more wondering if their next paycheck will actually materialize.

A disproportionate share of the abruptly laid-off and underemployed are lower-wage renters, who were already struggling to afford the state’s sky-high housing costs before the pandemic shuttered the restaurants, retail stores and ride share operations that employed them.


As missed rent payments mount, California tenants and the landlords that depend on their monthly checks to pay their bills are increasingly and aggressively asking the same questions: How much rent is going to be owed at the end of this? (A lot). How long will tenants have to repay it? (Unclear). Is the state going to pick up some of the tab? (Some, but the real help may have to come from the feds).


“Renters’ debt is going to chase people for years and years and years after this crisis is over,” said Shanti Singh, spokesperson for Tenants Together, one of a handful of renter groups that has called on state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom to forgive rent and mortgage payments while statewide emergency measures are in place.


“It’ll have lasting consequences for workers, for the economy, for homelessness that will reverberate way after coronavirus.”

While renters and landlords might disagree on the rules and mechanics of how the government should distribute rental aid, both groups are clamoring for a major infusion of public dollars.


California lawmakers are in the early stages of developing proposals to help, but how much the state can realistically afford is unclear as tax revenues shrivel and other pandemic-induced strains on the state budget mount.


“This is an unprecedented problem,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, Democrat from San Francisco, who has introduced several renter protection bills in his time in the state legislature. “And we’re not in a place yet where we know exactly how we can fix it. ”


The looming renter crisis

Just how many California renters are behind on their payments?

No public data source exists that can reliably answer that question. Anecdotal reports and some limited industry data suggest April wasn’t as bad as some had anticipated. The National Multifamily Housing Council, which advocates on behalf of apartment owners, estimated over 90% of April rents nationally had been at least partially paid. In April of last year, the figure was 96%.


But landlords and tenants expect May to be considerably worse, as the ripple effects of the shutdown spread and renters run out of savings and other emergency resources they can tap.


“We don’t know how many tenants can make it another month, and then how many landlords can make it another month,” said Debra Carlton, executive vice president for state government affairs for the California Apartment Association.


UC Berkeley researchers estimate that more than 2.3 million California renter households have at least one worker in an industry that was immediately impacted by the shutdown orders; of those, roughly half met the federal definition of “rent burdened.

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Child Care is Critical to Making California Healthy Again

First 5 Weighs in on Governor's May Revision to the State Budget

Posted: May 14, 2020

ALAMEDA, CA  - The governor and legislative leaders face tough decisions to address the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health of California's people and its economy. While the task is undeniably difficult, child care must be prioritized to make California healthy again, said First 5 Association, First 5 California and First 5 LA after the release of the governor's May Revision to the State Budget today.


Child care is necessary for economic recovery, and providers were already stretched thin before COVID-19. The proposed budget cuts to the child care system will devastate that system at a time when child care is needed the most. Much of the state's child care capacity is not operating, and many facilities are at risk of never opening again. All efforts must be made to support child care providers, workers, and the families who depend on them.


"As the Governor made clear in his executive order, child care workers are essential workers, because they keep other people on the job, including medical professionals, grocery clerks, police, and other critical first responders," said Kim Belshé, executive director of First 5 LA. "More than half of LA County's licensed child care sites have closed, limiting the ability of essential workers to continue keeping us safe. Solutions that prioritize our youngest residents, especially access to quality child care, are critical to re-opening our economy and getting Californians back to work. As we address these immediate needs, we will continue to focus on making our early learning system work better for young children and their families. We are committed to working in partnership with the governor and legislative leaders as we move forward in what will be our collective recovery effort."


The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on inequities in child care and early learning opportunities for all children, as well as inequities in who can and can't protect their health by working from home. In light of this, we are glad to see the revised budget maintains the governor's commitment to ensuring all families can access paid family leave (PFL), by including expansion of job protection for any worker eligible for PFL, and $1 million assistance to support small businesses.


Indeed, the state's shelter-in-place order has highlighted the fundamental nature of strong families and households to Californians' health and wellbeing. Sadly, child abuse and domestic violence cases typically spike during times of stress and hardship, which can have long-lasting effects. The budget's proposed cuts to home visiting at this time are worrisome. Our state must make every possible effort to prevent family violence by continuing to support home visiting and other family strengthening programs. Home visiting also makes financial sense, yielding a $6 return for every $1 invested.


"We know this is an economically devastating time, and a difficult time for families. First 5s across the state have been working hard on COVID-19 response and recovery," said Kim Goll, president of First 5 Association. "We are dedicated to using our resources and local networks to support families and the state of California as tough decisions are made, including through the home visiting programs that research shows strengthen families and improve child outcomes.  Families need support more than ever before."


Basic needs related to food, housing and income security are critical to helping families maintain some level of resiliency, and we applaud the state for its emergency funding in these areas. We also need to ensure we learn from the Great Recession and maintain the two-generational, prevention funding that will support families and help pull the economy out of recession.


"The governor and legislative leaders understand the crucial decisions that must be made to protect our early learning and care, health, and safety-net programs," said Camille Maben, executive director of First 5 California. "California has shown itself to be a leader in the response to this public health disaster. The state must take bold steps to make California healthy again by first focusing on the essential need of child care, and continuing its progress on comprehensive approaches to child wellbeing. We want to work with the governor and legislative leaders to shape the future. And it starts with prioritizing young children in policy and budget decisions."



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