As of 2019, the population of individuals experiencing homelessness has skyrocketed to 58,936 people in Los Angeles County alone. The homeless population in California reached 151,000 last year. The median price of a home in LA County was over $600,000 in 2019, and the average rent for a one bedroom was almost $2,000.
And this was all before COVID-19 hit.
Now, Los Angeles is facing an unprecedented economic crisis. The pandemic has exasperated our housing shortage and the homeless crisis. It is harder, if not impossible, for many people to pay rent, increasing the risk of residents becoming homeless.
While local and state policies have enacted temporary solutions to help prevent our most vulnerable neighbors from being evicted during this crisis, more needs to be done to support affordable housing owners and developers. The economic impact will be particularly damaging to their ability to cover monthly mortgage payments, critical social services, and other operating expenses. In addition to seeing decreases in their revenue from rent, they are also going to see a major reduction in developer fees as construction slows, which ultimately impacts their ability to continue developing affordable housing.
Now is when we must support this critical infrastructure that makes being housed more affordable and attainable.
The Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC LA) has created a toolkit for local cities with the following solutions they can deploy to help ease the burdens faced by affordable housing owners and preserve available affordable housing amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Offer rent, mortgage, and operating expense relief. Extraordinarily high unemployment levels make it difficult for renters to make their monthly rent payments and as a result, difficult for housing owners to make their mortgage payments. Cities can defer or forgive mortgage payments or establish a mortgage matching fund to help owners cover their payments.
Provide property tax relief. Cities should encourage private housing owners who are willing to work with tenants to provide relief, reduction, or modification of their rent payments.
Form public-private partnerships. Without regular income from rent, local governments can partner with CDFIs and other community-minded lenders to help owners with cash flow as they wait for rent to be repaid.
Establish a city-wide task force. We need to save valuable public capital resources and allow our most vulnerable neighbors to be housed rapidly. Local government leaders should create a city-wide task force in order to streamline affordable housing construction and speed up the development process.
Lead policy advocacy agenda. Some restrictions placed on affordable housing can be onerous during these unprecedented times. Cities and counties need to have a coordinated
voice that drives policy efforts on the state level to advocate for loosening of some of those restrictions.
In this time of crises, it is increasingly clear that swift and bold action must be taken to ensure the wellbeing of our most vulnerable neighbors. The time is now for local cities to adopt innovative solutions to protect and preserve affordable housing, and do so quickly — lives depend on it.
Tunua Thrash-Ntuk is the Executive Director of Los Angeles Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC LA), whose mission is to work with local leaders to invest in housing, health, education, public safety, and employment. LISC LA has developed an affordable housing toolkit offering creative solutions for local governments to employ and promote during this time. To learn more, visit https://www.lisc.org/los-angeles/covid-19-response/supporting-affordable- housing-owners-during-covid-19/.