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How the Virus Has Made the State’s Housing Crisis Worse

Good morning.

A year ago, during his State of the State speech, Gov. Gavin Newsom eschewed his usual practice of listing a host of ambitious proposals and instead focused on one thing: homelessness. Since then the state and governor’s office have been upended by the pandemic and its devastating effect on the economy. But while priorities naturally shifted, the housing problem was always there — and the coronavirus has only made it worse.

With the virus still spreading and the job market on shaky ground, Mr. Newsom signed a bill last month that extended the state’s eviction moratorium, which was scheduled to lapse this month, into the summer. The bill also allocated $2.6 billion in federal money to clear back rent, in hopes of allowing tenants who qualify to emerge with less debt.

But while those triage measures will ease some of the short-term pain, the decades old housing crisis is still very much with us. Even with rents falling in many cities, California continues to have one of the worst rental burdens in the country, with about a third of tenants paying half their pretax income on housing, compared with a quarter nationwide. It also still has the nation’s worst problem with homelessness.

So, as has become a ritual for the past several years, the State Legislature has introduced a blizzard of new housing bills intended to make housing more plentiful and affordable. Toni Atkins, the State Senate president pro tem, listed bills to increase housing production among her top goals for this year’s legislative session, and legislators have once again introduced various new bills to increase density along with funding for homeless services and subsidized housing. Sacramento, in the meantime, recently became the first city in the state to allow apartments in single-family home neighborhoods, after the City Council voted to adopt a plan that would allow developers to build fourplexes on any residential lot.

It’s hard to imagine now, but 2020 was supposed to be “the year of housing production.” And while 2021 will be the Legislature’s attempt at a do-over, the past year is a reminder that the housing crisis is always with us, no matter what comes along to overshadow it.

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  • Two cases of the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa were found in Alameda and Santa Clara, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. The variant reduces the efficacy of some vaccines. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • Dave Min, a state senator from Irvine, last month introduced SB-264, a bill that would ban gun sales and shows on all state-owned property in California. [Los Angeles Times]

  • Teachers and food workers in Orange County, who are newly eligible for the vaccine under state guidelines, will have to wait another two weeks. This is to help get through a waiting list of people 65 and older who haven’t been vaccinated yet. [The Orange County Register]

  • On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council voted 7-3 to pass a law requiring large grocery stores to pay their workers an additional $3 an hour on top of their regular pay as they remain at risk during the pandemic. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

  • The guitarist Chuck Johnson earlier this month released “The Cinder Grove,” an album that acts as a eulogy for California landscapes that are still being razed. [The New York Times]

  • Policymakers across the country look to California to see if it’s possible to phase out fossil fuels. State law mandates 100 percent clean energy by 2045, and until recently, things seemed to be going well. What’s changed? [The Los Angeles Times]

  • “The biggest issue facing dam safety in California is aging infrastructure and lack of money to fund repairs and retrofits of dams.” Fifty years after the Slymar earthquake, California’s dams face new challenges and dangers. [The Los Angeles Times]

  • The Chevron Refinery in Richmond spilled roughly 600 gallons of “water and petroleum mixture” into San Francisco Bay on Tuesday. [The San Francisco Chronicle]

— Steven Moity and Jake Frankenfield

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