Issue Brief: COVID’s Impact on California Housing

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Report #258, April 2021


Thousands of renters, landlords, and homeowners across California – particularly those of color – are struggling to make their housing payments amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Little Hoover Commission explains in its latest Issue Brief.

The Brief, the Commission’s newest resource for state policymakers that outlines current research without making policy recommendations, examines the impact of the pandemic on California housing. This is the Commission’s second Issue Brief. Its first, published in December, focuses on California’s Digital Divide.

“The financial impacts of the pandemic have significantly affected hardworking Californians, and these impacts could worsen as the pandemic continues,” said Commission Chair Pedro Nava.

In its Issue Brief, the Commission responds to questions posed by Senator Scott Wilk, Senator Melissa Hurtado, Senator Anna Caballero, and Senator Steven Bradford regarding essential workers, landlords, and homeowners in California. The Commission finds that:

  • Essential workers make up one-third to one-half of the state’s workforce, or approximately 5.6 million to 8.5 million Californians. As many as 1.4 million essential workers live in overcrowded housing.
  • Roughly one in ten individuals in owner-occupied households have fallen behind on their mortgage, while roughly one in six renters have fallen behind on their rent. Landlords have suffered as renters have been unable to pay, especially small landlords.
  • Nearly 5 percent of mortgages were in forbearance – an agreement to temporarily pause or reduce monthly payments – in early February. This places California eighth among the 15 states with the most loans in forbearance.
  • Foreclosures due to the pandemic could exacerbate the racial wealth gap, result in a loss of affordable rental housing, and negatively impact the health and well-being of homeowners and small landlords who experience it.

The Commission also provides demographic insight into the pandemic’s impacts on Californians based on its analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data, finding that:

  • Black and Latinx homeowners were over two times as likely as Whites to report being behind on their housing payments, and similar gaps existed for renters.
  • Low-income homeowners and renters were nearly four and six times as likely, respectively, to be behind on their housing payments as high-income homeowners and renters.
  • Renters with less than a high school education were more than three times as likely as renters with a bachelor’s degree or higher to be behind on their housing payments.

“Our research sheds new light on the severe housing impacts facing California’s most vulnerable populations,” said Commission Vice Chair Sean Varner. “We hope this Brief will assist policymakers as they consider measures to help all Californians who have experienced housing challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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