By Cynthia Davis, MPH
It’s no secret there is a housing affordability crisis in California. And a homelessness crisis of epic proportion. Both deeply and disproportionately affect Black communities across the state.
Black people are not only being pushed out of our major cities into the suburbs and exurbs of California, but often entirely out of the state to places with more affordable housing. Many were pushed out by gentrification and escalating costs, be it mortgage, rent or other unaffordable living costs. As California’s population grew from 29 million to 39 million over the past 30 years, the Black population in California dwindled to just 5.8% of the general population.
Of those African Americans who remain in the Golden State, two-thirds (65.6%) are now renters.
At the same time, homeownership rates for Black Americans nationwide have been falling.
What can the African American community do to combat California’s runaway rents and rising housing costs?
Learn about and vote ‘Yes!’ on Proposition 21, the Rental Affordability Act, this election.
Proposition 21 will limit unfair rent increases and preserve affordable housing, especially in historically Black and minority communities that are particularly vulnerable to displacement due to high rents and stagnant wages.
The law returns the decision-making process on whether to allow or enact rent control measures to local jurisdictions, communities, and local elected officials. It will not mandate or require rent control anywhere in California. The measure simply allows local communities to decide what’s best for them.
Currently, the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a one-size, fits-all state law restricts rent control throughout California, while freezing rent control laws that had already been enacted by the time the law passed.
Proposition 21 modernizes rent control by allowing local governments to limit rent increases on buildings older than 15 years, protecting millions of renters while incentivizing new housing construction.
Prop. 21 is endorsed by California Congresswomen Karen Bass, Maxine Waters, and Barbara Lee, the California Democratic Party, actor/activist Danny Glover, Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network, Los Angeles City Council Member Herb Wesson, SEIU California, ACLU of Southern California, the Los Angeles Urban League, the Brotherhood Crusade and Reed for Hope Foundation.
The Los Angeles Times endorsed Prop. 21 and the Sierra Club and a dozen or so unions and labor organizations are also backing Prop. 21 including SEIU California, California Federation of Teachers, AFSCME California PEOPLE, United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 8, UAW Local 2865 and many others that have thrown their full support behind Prop 21.
Also endorsing: the California Nurses Association (CNA), representing over 100,000 nurses who have been on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, bearing witness firsthand to the tremendous medical, humanitarian and economic damage the virus has caused—much of it to Black and brown families.
For Black people in California, these facts remain unchanged: systemic racism and displacement has caused a disproportionate number of Black people to become homeless.
In L.A. County, where 8% of the overall population is Black, Black people represent 34% of those experiencing homelessness. And eviction rates in Black communities are far higher than in white communities. In L.A. County, 30% of all renters facing eviction are African American.
California remains the epicenter of homelessness in America, with fully 27% of the country’s homeless living in ‘The Golden State.’ We have the highest poverty rate as measured by the cost of living, and many renters pay half their income or more in monthly rent.
Which means that as a very first step, we need to work now to protect the growing number of African American renters from facing evictions, displacement, and homelessness.
Proposition 21 can be that step.
Prop. 21 gives cities and counties the power to implement and expand rent control policies that limit how much rents can increase each year. It would allow local communities to:
Expand rent control to more buildings while exempting newly constructed buildings.
Exempt Single-Family homeowners who own up to two homes.
Allow limits on rent increases when a new renter moves in.
Proposition 21 is one way to help to preserve the social and economic fabric of our state.
Vote ‘Yes’ on Proposition 21 this election and help keep families—particularly Black families—in their homes.
Davis is Chair of the Board of Directors of AIDS Healthcare Foundation and one of the five citizen proponents of Proposition 21