What is clear from our analysis of data on housing in Richmond is that the squeeze on low-income renters, and Black and Latino residents in particular, has been building since the foreclosure crisis some 10 years ago. Foreclosures in Richmond spiked more than 600 percent between 2005 and 2008.21  One of the effects of the crisis was that many homes lost to foreclosures became rental properties, decreasing the percentage of Richmond households who own their home from 61 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2015. 

Substantial racial inequities exist in homeownership in the city: A majority of Black (60 percent) and Latino (63 percent) households are renters, compared to 36 percent of white households and 29 percent of Asian households.22  On the heels of the foreclosure crisis came a rise in speculative investment, with cash purchases making up about half of all home purchases in Richmond between 2009 and 2012.21  The asking rent in Richmond began to rise dramatically in 2013, going up 9 percent from 2013 to 2014, and 19 percent from 2014 to 2015, then only 4 percent through 2016, and not increasing through November 2017.23

Meanwhile, most of the new jobs that opened in the East Bay were either very low wage or very high wage. Between 2009 and 2016, 100,000 new jobs were added in occupations that have a median wage of less than $15 per hour, and 100,000 jobs opened in occupations with median wages $50 per hour or higher.24  The unemployment rate in Richmond came down, but the median income didn’t go up. When housing costs go up, but incomes do not, affordability worsens. This has hit low-income renters the hardest: the percentage of Richmond renters who are overburdened by their housing costs increased from 34 percent in the year 2000, to 46 percent in 2015.25

The production of housing that is affordable to low- and very low-income households has lagged far behind what is needed, worsening the shortage of affordable housing. From 2007 to 2014 Richmond permitted 31 percent of its target number of low- and very low-income units, and yet most cities in Contra Costa performed even worse, with jurisdictions in the county all together permitting only 22 percent of such units. In addition, most of the affordable units that were built recently were not located in neighborhoods with the resources and amenities to support healthy families. Looking at the affordable housing that was produced in Richmond using the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), all of the units were located in either low or lowest resource neighborhoods.26  While most of the neighborhoods in Richmond fall into either the moderate or low resource categories, none of the LIHTC affordable housing projects were built in the areas of Richmond with better amenities.27  This limits access to resources and opportunity for the low-income residents of these units, threatening to reinforce patterns of income and racial segregation.

Rapid Rehousing and Supportive Housing programs serving homeless residents in the county over the last four years have had high success rates with the clients they are able to serve, but are not resourced enough to meet the need. Rapid Rehousing and Permanent Supportive Housing programs’ clients avoid homelessness over 90 percent of the time. However, these programs had only 218 beds in the county and were only able to serve about 1,000 people each last year, out of some 8,500 homeless people coming into contact with the county’s Continuum of Care system. The chair of the county homeless council concluded that “the sluggish rate in the creation of affordable housing only means that homelessness, and the threat of homelessness, will continue."28


The extreme number of foreclosures has decreased, but the effects of the foreclosure crisis continue to impact Richmond


Chart 1: Number of Foreclosures in Richmond, 2005-2016

During the Great Recession, from 2007 to 2012, 6,300 residential properties in Richmond went into foreclosure.29  The number of foreclosures peaked in 2008 and has decreased each year to levels similar to 2005, before the recession. However, as late as the end of 2013, when the number of foreclosures that year had dropped to pre-recession levels, more than one in four Richmond homeowners were still underwater on their mortgages (meaning they owed more on their mortgage than the fair market value of the property) and the city estimated that 30 percent of homes in Richmond were financed with subprime loans.30  Overall, after the impact of the foreclosure crisis, the percentage of Richmond households who own their homes dropped from 61 percent in 2005 to 49 percent in 2015.31  The subprime lending that drove the foreclosure crisis was disproportionately targeted at Black and Latino homeowners, even when comparing borrowers within the same credit score range.32  Despite the rapidly climbing housing values over the last few years, 4.4 percent of the residential properties in Richmond have underwater mortgages.29  

A spike in cash and absentee owner purchases followed the foreclosure crisis in Richmond 


Chart 2: Home Purchases with Cash and Absentee Owners in Richmond, 2006-2016

From mid-2009 to mid-2012, a majority of homes sold in Richmond were purchased with cash. The percentage of absentee owner purchases tripled between 2008 and 2012. The percentage of homes purchased by absentee owners or with all cash has come down to around one in five purchases of Richmond homes in 2016, which remains higher than pre-recession levels. These trends point towards speculative investment in the housing market, otherwise known as an economic investment in housing based on the speculation that housing value in a specific area will increase rapidly for a profitable resale or provides the ability to charge increased rents at profit.33

House flipping in Richmond spiked after the foreclosure crisis and remains higher than pre-crisis


Chart 3: Residential Richmond Properties Sold Less than Three Years after Previous Sale, 2004-2017

House flipping is the practice of buying a property and quickly reselling it for a profit and is a form of speculative investment. Between 2000 and 2007, owners sold 589 Richmond properties within three years of purchasing them. In contrast, between 2008 and 2017, there were 3,593 properties resold within three years. The largest increase in house flipping occurred in the early years of the Great Recession. In 2007 there were only 93 Richmond properties sold that had been bought within the previous three years. In 2008, this number rose by over 600 percent to 568, then more than doubled again the next year in 2009. After 2009, flipping decreased, and over the last four years (2013-2017) has been around 300 properties flipped per year, which is three times as high as pre-crisis levels. A 2016 analysis by RealtyTrac found that housing in the Richmond zip code 94801, which includes Central Richmond, Point Richmond, and unicorporated North Richmond, had the highest return on investment of any zip code in the Bay Area.


Rent has risen by over a third in Richmond over the last eight years


Chart 4: Richmond Media Rent for All Housing Types in Richmond, 2010-2017

As with the larger Bay Area, Richmond experienced an increase in median rents between 2010 and 2017. This chart displays the median asking rents between November 2010 and September 2017.  During this entire time period, rents increased by 35 percent, with the largest single jump occurring between 2014 and 2015 (19 percent during a 12-month period).

Black and Latino households in Richmond represent a disproportionate percentage of renters


Chart 5: Percentage of Renters by Race in Richmond, 2005-2015

Across racial groups, a higher percentage of Richmond households are renters in 2017 compared to 2005. A majority of Black (60 percent) and Latino (63 percent) households are renters, while 36 percent of white, and 29 percent of Asian households are renters. The percentage of Latino households comprised of renters rose from 38 percent in 2005 to 63 percent in 2015, now the highest in the city. The percentage of Black households renting was twice as high as the percentage of white households renting in 2005, and this gap decreased slightly by 2015.34

More people are working but wages of new jobs reflect extreme inequality


Chart 6: Change in Number of Jobs by Hourly Wage Category, Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley MSA, 2009-2017

The current unemployment rate in Richmond is low (under 5 percent for the population overall)35  but the median household income in Richmond ($55,000) has barely risen since 2009.36   Racial disparities in employment also persist, with the 2015 unemployment rate at 5.5 percent for white residents, 8 percent for Asians, 10 percent for Latinos, and 18 percent for Black residents in Richmond.37   The wages of the new jobs reflect extreme inequalities—between 2009 and 2017, most of the new jobs that opened in the East Bay were either very low wage or very high wage jobs. About 100,000 new jobs were added in occupations that have a median wage of less than $15 per hour, and around 100,000 jobs opened in occupations with median wages $50 per hour or higher.38  While Richmond city council voted in 2017 to raise the minimum wage, the wage needed for a single adult working full-time with an infant child to be self sufficient in Contra Costa County is $28 per hour.39  About 145,000 (63 percent) of the new jobs in the East Bay since 2009 have median incomes paying less than this level of self sufficiency. The income inequality generated by this type of economic growth contributes to the housing crisis by creating a large difference in what people can spend on housing, thereby creating unbalanced competition for available housing. 

Housing is less affordable in Richmond relative to incomes, and renters are the most burdened by unaffordable housing costs


Chart 7: Overburdened Renters and Homeowners in Richmond and the Bay Area, 2000-2015

Housing affordability refers to the relationship between people’s income and housing costs. Most housing agencies consider a household over-burdened with housing costs if the household pays more than 30 percent of their income towards housing. Despite being one of the most affordable cities in the Bay Area, the percentage of Richmond renters who are over-burdened by their housing costs increased from 34 percent in the year 2000, to 46 percent in 2015.40  In the 2016 Richmond city survey, only 39 percent of residents said they were “not experiencing housing cost stress.” The national survey company conducting the survey compared this response to other communities where a similar question was asked and found that Richmond had the lowest positive rating regarding housing cost stress of the 240 communities surveyed.41  In Richmond and throughout the rest of the Bay Area, a higher percentage of renter households are over-burdened by their housing costs when compared to homeowners.

Tenants are responding to unaffordable rents by crowding more people into less housing


Chart 8: Crowding in Renter-Occupied Homes in Richmond, 2005-2015

Among homeowners in Richmond, over-crowding decreased between 2005 and 2015, but among renters, over-crowding has increased substantially. The number of over-crowded renter households with one to 1.5 people per room nearly doubled from 2005 to 2015, increasing from 960 to 1,840.42  Compared to other cities in the Bay Area, Richmond had one of the highest rates of over-crowded households in the Bay Area in 2013, according to ABAG.43  Crowding more people into less housing is often a response to unaffordable housing. Crowding more than one person per room is associated with worsened respiratory conditions, stomach cancer, psychiatric symptoms, mental illness, and other worsened health conditions. Crowding at the higher rate of 1.5 people per room can lead to worsened child mortality, reading and mathematical testing, and increased accidents.44

Affordable Housing Production

The county and region are far behind in producing enough affordable housing for population growth


Chart 9: Contra Costa County Housing Units Permitted Relative to Units Allocated (by Income Category), 2007-2014

Housing pressures at county and regional levels impact the mobility of low-income Richmond households and increase affordable housing demand. The region has almost reached its goals for building new higher-income housing, but has fallen far short in developing housing affordable to lower-income households. Between 2007 and 2014, Contra Costa Co. developed 96 percent of the housing units needed for above moderate-income households and 73 percent for moderate-income households, but only 24 percent for low-income households and 21 percent of what was needed for very low-income.45  While Chart 9 displays a timespan that coincided with a construction downturn during the Great Recession, the ability to finance affordable housing in the region was further exacerbated by an overall decrease in funding from state and federal sources during the same time period.46  The trends in Contra Costa Co. mirror those of the entire Bay Area. Contra Costa as a whole permitted more moderate-income housing than the rest of the region.45

Richmond is developing more affordable housing than many other cities in the county, but not nearly enough to meet need


Chart 10: Contra Costa Cities' Progress Towards Affordable Housing Goals, 2007-2014

Every seven years, the regional planning agency in the Bay Area, known as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), sets affordable housing development goals for each city in the region based on the region’s population growth and housing needs, among other factors. Each city is given a goal for the number of units it should build in the seven-year period at very low-, low-, moderate-, and above moderate-income levels.47  From 2007 to 2014 Richmond only permitted 31 percent (227 housing units) of its target number of very low- and low-income units, which, however, was the fourth highest out of 19 incorporated cities in Contra Costa County in number of units produced and percentage of allocation achieved at those income levels. As a whole, cities in Contra Costa only permitted 22 percent of the very low- and low-income units that were needed in Contra Costa County between 2007 and 2014.

All Low- and Very Low-Income Housing Units Built in Richmond Between 2003-2015 were Built in Low or Lowest Resource Neighborhoods


Map 1: Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) Projects and Neighborhood Resource Levels in Richmond

Map 1 shows where many of the housing units that counted towards Richmond’s lower-income housing goals have been built. These projects were all financed through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, a federal program that is administered by each state and is the largest source of funding for affordable housing in California. The 13 projects represented in the map were placed in service between 2003 and 2015 and account for over 1,500 total units, 97 percent of which were affordable to low-income households.48  Note that most of these units were concentrated in central Richmond, with other projects scattered mostly throughout central and southern Richmond, and that all of the units were located in either Low or Lowest Resource neighborhoods.27  This is part of a broader pattern in the Bay Area; nearly two-thirds of LIHTC projects (64.9 percent) in the nine-county area were sited in Moderate, Low, and Very Low Opportunity neighborhoods during the years for which data was available (1987-2014).49  While most of the neighborhoods in Richmond fall into either the Moderate or Low Resource categories, all of the projects were built in the low and lowest resource areas of Richmond, with none in Point Richmond or Eastern Richmond.

Chronic underfunding sparks transition in the model for providing permanently affordable housing 

Nationally, public funding for permanently affordable housing has been cut so dramatically that public housing faces a $26 billion backlog of needed repairs.50  In order to address this lack of funding, HUD developed the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, through which participating housing authorities (like the Richmond Housing Authority) can convert public housing to private ownership, while ensuring long-term affordability through a contract with affordability restrictions that can be renewed each time they expire.51  The Richmond Housing Authority (RHA) board, which is made up of the members of the City Council, has approved RAD conversion of four of the public housing developments owned by the RHA.52  Management of two of those developments, Friendship Manor and Triangle Court, has already been turned over to the John Stewart Company.53  Temporary tenant relocation at both of these properties took place at the same time as renovations. The other two RHA-owned public housing developments, Nevin Plaza and Nystrom Village, have received RAD funding and are scheduled for renovation in 2017. The $160 million Nystrom Village revitalization project will draw from both public and private funding sources.54  The Richmond Housing Authority has not finalized a relocation plan for neither Nevin Plaza nor Nystrom Village.55  Another challenge facing the RHA's model of providing affordable housing is the difficulty placing Section 8 voucher holders, who must find private landlords willing to accept their subsidized rent payments. Around 300 Section 8 vouchers are going unused, leaving unfulfilled the needs of those 300 extremely low-income households and jeopardizing the future funding of the RHA.56  Mismanagement at the Richmond Housing Authority has drawn criticism and threats of sanctions from HUD.57  


Homelessness is persistent but may be coming down in Richmond


Chart 11: Point in Time Count of Homeless Population in Richmond and Regions of Contra Cosa County, 2015-2017

When the most recent annual count asked homeless people across Contra Costa what city they were in when they lost their permanent housing, 198 were from Richmond out of a total 807 in the county.58  No other city in the county had more homeless people who formerly called it home. Data on homelessness has limited reliability due to the lack of comprehensive surveys, but in a one-night survey, the surveyors documented 109 people experiencing homelessness in Richmond, including 57 percent who were sleeping outside. 

This annual survey has found the number of people homeless in Richmond decreasing in each of the last three years, from 356 in 2015, to 160 in 2016, to 109 in 2017.59  The Contra Costa survey found “a significant increase in central county and decrease in west county. Some of these trends may reflect a shift in the homeless population and/or the effectiveness of efforts adopted at the local level to address homelessness.” A recent estimate from the Richmond mayor and the police department put the Richmond homeless figure nearly eight times higher, at 800 individuals and 76 encampments.60  A recent investigation by a Contra Costa Grand Jury interviewed homeless service providers, who thought the number of homeless people at 20 to 50 percent higher than what the one-night survey found.61  

Children, LGBT youth, seniors, formerly incarcerated, and people with mental health conditions are disproportionately affected by homelessness

Some 160 children were encountered in homeless families during the county’s annual count, as well as 78 transition age youth (18-24 years old).62  LGBT youth experience homelessness at higher rates than non-LGBT youth for a range of reasons, related to sexuality and gender-based discrimination.63

The county also reports that “the County’s homeless population had a higher proportion of seniors and individuals with chronic or mental health conditions” than it did five years ago.64  

Self-reports by the 1,400 homeless individuals served by Rubicon’s West County Economic Empowerment Services between 2012 and 2016 show that 43 percent had been convicted of a crime and 39 percent had served time in prison or jail. County data shows similarly high rates of homeless who were previously incarcerated.65

Supportive housing programs are effective, but don't have necessary resources to place enough people in permanently affordable housing


Chart 12: Effective Rate of Rapid Rehousing and Supportive Housing Programs in Contra Costa Country, 2012-2016

The Rapid Re-housing and Supportive Housing programs in Contra Costa County have high rates of success in helping clients not return to homelessness, but are only able to serve a small portion of the people who are homeless. On average, Rapid Rehousing programs in the county over the last four years have placed clients in permanent housing 73 percent of the time, and helped them avoid homelessness 93 percent of the time. Permanent Supportive Housing programs have had an even higher success rate, with an average of 96 percent of clients retaining their housing.66  However, those two programs had only 218 beds and served about 1,000 people each last year, out of some 8,500 homeless people coming into contact with the county’s Continuum of Care system. The system as a whole has the most difficulty placing people in permanent housing. The chair of the county homeless council concluded that “the sluggish rate in the creation of affordable housing only means that homelessness, and the threat of homelessness, will continue.”67  GRIP, interviewed as one of the only transitional housing programs in Richmond, also reports that it has been highly difficult to move the families in their programs out into permanent housing.