In summary

Protect California families by ensuring that key housing priorities are kept in the Build Back Better legislation package now under consideration.

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By Fred Blackwell, Special to CalMatters

Fred Blackwell is CEO of the San Francisco Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the country and a funder of CalMatters.

Our congressional leadership can save lives and protect California families by ensuring that housing priorities are kept in the Build Back Better legislation package now under consideration. Funding three crucial housing programs will help ensure California families can afford a place to call home and encourage creation of the affordable housing our state needs.

We know that we have a serious housing crisis in California — look no further than the RVs that line our streets and the tents that populate our parks. Because of laws that reinforce housing discrimination and economic policies that reduce housing supply, Black and brown communities are bearing the brunt of this crisis.

Housing saves lives. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, by late 2020, California’s pandemic-related eviction protections saved the lives of 6,000 Californians and prevented 186,000 cases of COVID-19.

Our legislators need to preserve provisions of the Build Back Better Act that incentivize and make it easier to preserve and increase affordable housing: 

Fund federal housing vouchers to help families and individuals with low incomes move into homes that provide safety and stability. Many of these families have been the most vulnerable to eviction during the pandemic. 

Reform the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit to create thousands of affordable homes by supporting those who are rehabilitating or creating new housing targeted at individuals with lower incomes. 

Fund programs such as HOME, Community Development Block grant, and the new Unlocking Possibilities that will help ensure local governments have needed housing resources. 

My work is focused on achieving a Bay Area where everyone can thrive with a safe and affordable place to call home — and where the doors of opportunity are open to all, where racial justice and economic inclusion are embedded in how we live.  

Housing is central to this vision. This summer, the mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland joined with more than two dozen nonprofit and philanthropic organizations in signing a letter outlining the Bay Area’s top housing priorities in the federal recovery package.

The needs are dire. According to the National Equity Atlas, in California:

— 724,000 households are behind on rent.

— Of those households, nearly half have children (for a total of 855,000 children). 

— Of those behind on rent, 81% are families of color. 

This is tragic but unsurprising, given the immediate and disparate impact of the pandemic on communities of color, coupled with the long-term exclusion of people of color from many opportunities for homeownership, wealth building and economic inclusion. 

Investments in housing will increase the benefit of other investments. For the 855,000 children in households behind on rent, few things are more important than ensuring they continue to have a safe place to live. According to the Urban Institute, “Recent research on homeless families who received housing vouchers shows that vouchers decrease economic stress and food insecurity, help keep families together (and keep kids out of the child welfare system), reduce the rates of domestic violence and alcohol dependence, and limit school changes among children.” 

We understand the difficult position in which our leaders find themselves. It’s clear, however, that maintaining these three key housing provisions means immediate benefits for our community and increased impact for other investments. 

Join me in calling on our congressional leadership today to make sure that critical housing investments stay in the Build Back Better Act. These investments will help provide immediate housing relief and make it possible for California to build  the additional housing we need to address our housing issues in the long term.

Housing is a vital component of sound infrastructure and building back better. It is an important contributor to our public health, our community and our children. It is an investment in racial justice and economic inclusion. 

Let’s invest accordingly.

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