Tiena Johnson Hall (Courtesy photo)

The California Mortgage Relief Program helps families impacted by COVID-19 save their home
For many Californians of color, housing instability and inequity did not begin with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discriminatory housing and lending policies have long prevented communities of color from securing the right to stable housing. The gateway to homeownership – proven to be one of the most effective ways to build intergenerational wealth in America – has only drifted farther and farther out of reach for people of color in America and especially in California.

While the pandemic did not create these issues, it has compounded them, forcing more families into vulnerable positions and putting their homeownership at risk.

To those who are familiar with our country’s history, it is no surprise that Black and Latinx communities are especially impacted. The Little Hoover Commission found that over the course of the pandemic, Black and Latinx homeowners were more than two times as likely as white Americans to report being behind on their housing payments.

Responding to the most recent chapter of this crisis, California has $1 billion in federal support available to homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to lost work, increased medical costs, and other hardships brought on or exacerbated by COVID-19 and the associated economic impacts.

Launched in December 2021, the California Mortgage Relief Program has distributed grants of up to $80,000 to eligible homeowners from socially disadvantaged communities, including families of color, who have fallen behind on their housing payments.

Over the past six months, California has distributed relief funds to more than 2,800 households. Recent expansions to the program’s eligibility guidelines have opened the opportunity for even more homeowners to get caught up on missed housing payments.

We have made it a point to embed ourselves in our local communities and connect with vulnerable homeowners in the language that is most accessible to them. As these families work to recover from the ongoing financial burdens of the pandemic, there should be no additional barriers for them to access these resources.

A home goes beyond four walls and a roof. It is security. It is peace of mind. For many families, buying a home represents the unraveling of a system entrenched in inequality and lays the foundation of opportunity for future generations.

This housing relief cannot undo a history of exclusionary practices, nor end a global pandemic, but it can ensure that whatever progress these families have made toward intergenerational wealth is not erased due to circumstances beyond their control.

And that is the work we will continue to do for these families. For anyone suffering from inequality, we must always strive for better.

Tiena Johnson Hall is the executive director of the California Housing Finance Agency. (CalHFA)