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There’s a widening gap in the nation’s housing crisis and nowhere is this more on display than in California, according to Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies.

“About one million Californians are behind on their rent,” said Francisco Dueñas, the executive director of Housing Now. “Housing is a public health issue.”

Duenas was speaking on a panel hosted by Ethnic Media Services designed to break down how policymakers and advocates are tackling looming evictions and the mounting debt facing renters who may have more than a year of back due rent.

“California has a stronger moratorium than the federal one,” shared Tina Rosales, policy advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

Advocates believe California’s housing moratorium has prevented more than 100,000 renters from becoming homeless, which would have put their health at greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Eviction protections have prevented 6,000 COVID deaths in California,” said Dueñas. “Housing affects all parts of our lives.”

Meanwhile, Rosales said in a post-pandemic California, it is important to note that eviction moratoriums have a direct financial impact on renters and landlords.

To improve housing in California, advocates said equitable development is needed, in which communities of color are not displaced when new housing is built.

Another need is legal services for renters, particularly in rural areas and communities of color.

“One of the best ways to prevent homelessness is by offering legal services,” Rosales explained.

Meanwhile, the California Budget and Policy Center is a non-partisan group that analyzes the state’s budget, which was passed on June 14. When it comes to housing priorities, it is important to note that low-income and Black Californians are more likely to be living in rental housing.

According to the California Budget and Policy Center, almost 17 million Californians – 44 percent of state residents – live in homes or apartments that are rented.

“There was a housing affordability crisis before COVID,” said Sara Kimberlin, a senior policy analyst at the California Budget and Policy Center. “Rental assistance is one of the most important programs to meet needs during the immediate crisis.”

“More than half of the renters are paying an unaffordable amount (in Los Angeles County),” Kimberlin added.

However, there have been documented barriers that have prevented some residents from accessing emergency rental assistance. Those barriers include things many take for granted like not having email access; only having the phone number of their property manager and not their actual landlord; fears of retaliation; and not having official documentation to prove they have lost income.

Advocates have called for the extension of eviction moratoriums through September 30, which has been approved by California Governor Gavin Newsom. They are also encouraging state leaders to continue to make it easier to apply for and receive emergency rental assistance.

Moving forward, advocates want more community-based housing, equitable development, additional wrap-around services for people facing homelessness, and continued rent relief as the effects of the pandemic still linger. More information can be found at roadmaphome2030.org/solutions.

“This was a major problem before COVID, now people are more aware of it,” Kimberlin added.