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Similar rates of renters across L.A., San Bernardino, and Riverside counties experience housing insecurity and have already made harmful cutbacks on basic needs as eviction threat looms.

BERKELEY: The Inland Empire region to which residents once fled for relief from Los Angeles’s soaring housing costs is now just as likely to stretch renters to the brink, according to a new report released by the Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley (OBI). More than half of renters in San Bernardino and Riverside counties are “rent burdened,” spending over 30 percent of household income on rent; 3 in 5 have worried they wouldn’t be able to make the next month’s rent since COVID-19; and 20 percent reported having made “food spending cuts and going hungry.” 

To address housing instability, the report calls for immediate and longer-term policy solutions, ranging from rent forgiveness with landlord assistance to the development of “social housing” and expanded worker-rights protections. Critical across these interventions is that solutions be scaled regionally to match “the interconnected nature of housing markets” across Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties.

The report was written by a team of scholars from USC’s Price School of Public Policy and Rutgers University-Camden. It brings together data from the authors’ focus-group and survey research in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties; OBI’s 2020 regional survey of the Inland Empire; and the U.S. Census Bureau. The authors were commissioned to carry out the analysis by OBI’s Blueprint for Belonging project, as part of its ongoing research on economic inequality and opportunity in the Inland Empire. 

“What this report makes clear is that meaningfully addressing the housing crisis will require participation and coordination across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors as well as a regional approach that reflects the interconnected circumstances of Southern California collectively,” said the report’s lead author, Sean Angst. “The situation is dire for many renters, and the challenges are immense. But California also has some unique opportunities, with a budget surplus, new federal resources to cities and counties, and a state government that has signalled they are reenergized to craft a new path forward through bold policy.”

The authors call, in the immediate, for a number of interventions including the extension of eviction protections, rent relief and forgiveness, and rent control. For the long term, they argue that Southern California’s housing affordability crisis cannot be solved without enacting structural changes to housing and work conditions through the production of social housing, expanding the social safety net, and strengthening workers’ rights among other community-focused policies.

“With the expiration of California’s eviction moratorium and many unemployment programs, policymakers have left millions of renters in a highly precarious situation,” said OBI housing policy expert Nicole Montojo. “The need for collective action across all levels of government to protect renters is urgent, both to prevent the immediate eviction crisis and to seed deeper systemic changes that create permanent housing stability for every Californian. This report places an important emphasis on regional coordination and investment in social housing as an alternative to the commodification of housing.”

“Many renters that my organization sees in the Inland Empire have been struggling since before the pandemic, and even the protections that were in place weren’t enough to keep everyone afloat,” added Reverend Samuel Casey, founding director of Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE). “We need systemic solutions now, or we’ll continue to see renters and people experiencing homelessness in a constant state of crisis.”