The long-predicted second wave of COVID-19 is hitting Los Angeles very hard, with over 15,000 new cases daily and hospitals straining to provide care. It has disproportionately impacted lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color, where high rates of poverty and household overcrowding (more people than rooms in a household) are fueling the disease’s spread.

In addition to a wave of COVID-19 cases, the pandemic also puts Los Angeles at risk of a wave of evictions and renter displacement. Heavy job losses have caused lower-income households to struggle to pay already-high rents, putting over 365,000 renter households in Los Angeles County at risk of eviction. Late last year, California stepped in with a temporary, partial eviction freeze statewide. Under Assembly Bill 3088, households may never be evicted for unpaid rent debt incurred from March through August 2020, and cannot be evicted as long as they pay 25% of rent between September 2020 and January 2021. While this helped prevent a wave of evictions so far, its protections will expire on January 31, creating an immediate emergency that the state must address.

At a minimum, the statewide eviction freeze must continue through the end of 2021, when mass vaccination is expected to finally bring an end to the pandemic. Assembly Bill 15, authored by Assemblymember David Chiu, would extend the protections of AB 3088 through December 31. Abundant Housing LA has joined with a broad range of housing justice and tenants’ rights advocates, including Housing Now!, in strong support of passing AB 15 by January 31.

However, many renter households would still be left with a significant backlog of rent debt, putting them at risk of eviction after the pandemic. Last year, legislators proposed a permanent ban on evicting tenants who missed a rent payment because of COVID-19, and a system of transferring unpaid rent debt from property owners to the state government. Property owners would be compensated with tax credits, and the state would give tenants partial rent forgiveness and 10 years to repay remaining debt. 

A new bill this year, Assemblymember Chiu’s Assembly Bill 16, is intended to permanently fix the issue of COVID-19 rent and mortgage debt. Although AB 16’s language has not yet been finalized, the concepts that were proposed last session offer a promising starting place for a permanent solution. AHLA calls on Sacramento to protect renters from long-term financial impact and eviction risk post-pandemic.

But even after the pandemic is beaten, the threat of eviction and displacement will still loom over lower-income households in Los Angeles. This is because of L.A.’s housing affordability crisis, a product of housing scarcity and restrictions on new housing production. Exclusionary zoning and apartment bans in high-opportunity neighborhoods fuel gentrification and displacement of lower-income communities; when high-income neighborhoods refuse to allow housing, many higher earners seek housing in lower-income neighborhoods. Without housing supply growth in lower-income neighborhoods, new residents bid up rents and home prices, which puts lower-income renters at risk of displacement.

Displacement is felt acutely in communities of color, given that they face heavier housing cost burdens than white Angelenos, and typically comprise the majority of the population in gentrifying neighborhoods. It is a terrible societal failure that Black, Latino, and Asian Angelenos, who have built vibrant communities throughout Los Angeles despite disinvestment and systemic racism, are today less and less able to continue living in these communities.

Fixing the housing crisis in Los Angeles requires a comprehensive solution to displacement post-pandemic. L.A. must enact stronger anti-displacement protections and mitigations, so that everyone can access stable, affordable housing in the communities they call home, and can be confident that changes to their community won’t force them to leave. This means guaranteeing all tenants the right of return to their homes after redevelopment occurs, strengthening enforcement against predatory landlords, limiting evictions to “just cause” scenarios, increasing funding for tenant homeownership opportunities, and fully funding a Right to Counsel program all of which we’ve called for in our policy agenda.

Our city and state’s leaders need to protect renters and lower-income communities from displacement both throughout the immediate COVID-19 emergency and post-pandemic. Acting boldly in the face of these threats will help build a Los Angeles that offers quality housing opportunities to all of its residents, regardless of race or income. This is no time for half-measures.