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Housing and Homelessness

LA's Housing Crisis Likely Made The Pandemic Worse

Graffiti on a wall on La Brea Ave. in May amid the Covid-19 pandemic. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)
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The vast majority of L.A. renters are spending too much on housing — and the region’s affordability crisis provided opportunities for the COVID-19 pandemic to spin out of control.

That's according to the researchers behind a new survey published today that measures how much Angelenos spent on housing and other essential needs last year.

"High rates of housing insecurity very much make L.A. more vulnerable to the impact of the pandemic on public health," said USC sociologist Kyla Thomas, director of the USC Dornsife-Union Bank LABarometersurvey.

The survey collected responses from 1,326 L.A. County residents during the fall of 2020, finding that nearly two-thirds (65%) of renters could be considered "cost-burdened," meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent alone.

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More than 40% of L.A. residents live in overcrowded homes. That means that when low-income workers who interact with the public get sick, they're often bringing the virus into homes where it has ample opportunity to spread.

These problems affect some L.A. residents more than others. Latinos are most likely to be rent-burdened (70%) and to live in overcrowded housing (55%). Rent burden is also high for Black residents (67%). And while Asians have the lowest rate of rent burden among all ethnic groups included in the survey, they also face high rates of overcrowding (40%).

The survey reveals widespread housing instability across L.A., with one-in-three Angelenos saying they worried about losing their homes last year.

Fifteen percent said they were late with at least one rent or mortgage payment. Among the 12% of renters who moved in the past year, about a third did so because they were either formally evicted or informally pushed out, including reasons such as unaffordable rent hikes, a landlord failing to make repairs or being asked to leave.

Researchers say crushing housing costs have forced L.A. residents to cut back on other necessary expenses. The survey found that close to one-in-three Angelenos postponed medical care because it cost too much, and 11% worried about not having enough resources to get food.

"The fact that two-thirds of renters are struggling to afford their housing in L.A. — that's a massive social problem," Thomas said. "The high cost of housing in L.A. permeates our lives in so many ways."

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