UC Berkeley researchers say rent, mortgage cancellation is necessary in pandemic

Berkeley Housing Rent Apartments Off-Campus
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Researchers at the UC Berkeley Othering & Belonging Institute released a research brief that suggests rent and mortgage cancellation policy is necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authored by the California Community Partnerships Team, the brief analyzes the recent housing and economic situations related to the COVID-19 pandemic and presents arguments in favor of creating policy that cancels rent and mortgage payments.

The brief intends to bring attention to the “urgent need” for government action to mitigate these pandemic-induced effects, as well as structurally improve the extensive inequities in housing, according to Nicole Montojo, a housing research analyst at the Othering & Belonging Institute.

“In this moment, the whole system has to shift, and a rent and mortgage cancellation policy is essential to ensuring that people have access to stable housing during the crisis and through the recovery period,” Montojo said in an email. “And it’s a solution that can be designed to work for tenants, homeowners, and landlords.”

The brief predicts that without rent and mortgage payment cancellation, there is a higher possibility that the pandemic will worsen debt, housing instability, homelessness and racial inequalities.

Montojo emphasized that the brief shows that housing is a “racial justice issue,” as the proportion of low-income renters and homeowners is skewed toward people of color. Even before the pandemic, these minorities were found to be likely to use at least 30% of their incomes on rent across California, according to Montojo.

According to the brief, several cities and states are discussing rent and mortgage cancellation policies.

“It’s important to be in conversation with communities on the ground, policymakers, and advocates working on this to figure out how to ensure that policy reaches the people who need it most,” Montojo said in the email.

The brief proposes these policies as the “logical complement” to shelter-in-place policies, to allow people to follow the laws designed to protect their health without jeopardizing their housing security.

Evaluating the current system set in place, Montojo said in the email that the data suggests it “falls short” of addressing the problem. Unemployment insurance is not enough to cover the median rent in California, and temporary prohibitions of eviction are crucial, but still only “delay the crisis.”

The brief emphasizes the duty of the government to take measures to safeguard public health. If designed correctly, the policy would first prioritize access to stable housing, use pinpointed methods to improve housing stability universally and lessen racial inequalities in respect to wealth and housing.

“We hope that this moment can be a stepping stone toward long-term systems change,” Montojo said in the email. “We can’t go back to normal, when normal was racial exclusion, wealth inequality, increasing homelessness, and widespread housing instability.”

Contact Angelina Wang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dc_angelina.