The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the course of history but one thing remains constant: the universal need for housing. As events continue to unfold, we are working to stay ahead of how cities plan to recover by making sure they’re taking the right steps to house all Californians. While there are still more questions than answers, we would like to share our roadmap as we navigate this crisis alongside you.

Housing Must Remain a Top Priority

How do you self-isolate at home when you don’t have a home? Long before the first cough or sign of fever, housing insecurity increases the risk of spreading infectious disease far more than urban density itself. Urban skeptics have claimed that housing density increases the spread of this pandemic, despite the fact that the densest cities on the planet have had the strongest and most effective results, including a reduction in lethality. Limiting homebuilding through reduced density is not a solution, and it certainly won’t create more homes for Californians in need of a safe and healthy environment. It should come as no surprise that the populations being hit hardest are those with housing insecurity: low income families with a relative in the hospital, wage workers who can’t afford to miss work, people with asthma from living next to freeways, and other disadvantaged populations. We need safe and secure housing that doesn’t leave anyone out of a home. Cities will continue to exist after this crisis subsides, as will the need to provide plentiful housing for all Californians. We will continue to work towards this goal during this crisis so that we can better protect our population. 

Promoting Housing Growth through ADU Development

Promoting ADU development is a powerful strategy for abundant housing that still holds promise in the short term. Last year’s ADU reforms and triplexization bills enacted by the state legislature took effect on January 1st. These changes have opened the door for a proliferation of ADUs in California. In the first month of this year, we saw 24 inquiries from homeowners looking to do their part in addressing our housing shortage. Even now, with much of the state under a shelter-in-place order, homeowners are reaching out for our help. There are millions of single family properties in California where an ADU will now make economic sense for the homeowner. Each new ADU built will be a new, naturally affordable home for a renter who needs it. New ADUs will be located in generally more exclusive single-family neighborhoods that have maintained a long history of keeping out renters–until now. A new ADU can help an older Californian age in place either through extra income on the side or downsizing their living quarters, allowing for a new family to start in their old single family home. Equally important, an expansion of ADU development will keep construction workers employed if the pandemic’s economic impacts render larger projects unviable. 

We are doubling down on our existing work with renewed focus on ADU policy implementation. We will be working to produce educational materials for homeowners and builders on how to finance, design and navigate the permitting process for ADUs. We will continue to track how cities are implementing new state ADU and triplexization laws to make sure that no city can avoid the state requirements with lax public oversight and participation. The number of homeowners asking for help navigating local permitting processes shows us that there is still a lot of work to be done as local planning departments figure out how to comply with state law. CaRLA will be here to make sure that California takes advantage of this opportunity to add hundreds of thousands of new homes and build economic steam to blunt the impacts of a recession. 

Focus on Housing for Those Who Need it Most

The economic impacts of the pandemic are unprecedented. We’ve already seen nearly 5 million people apply for unemployment every week this month; many of them will be making hard decisions between rent, groceries, and other essentials. The effects of this crisis will fall on those who are least able to cope. While we do have a statewide eviction moratorium in place, people will still fall through the cracks when landlords discover the loopholes. Creating abundant affordable housing for these populations will be of utmost importance as we move into the next phase of California’s response. We will take care to focus our education and legal advocacy on local policies towards at-risk populations with renewed vigor. The decisions made by local governments play a crucial role in development and provision of shelter for low-income, disabled, or homeless families. We will be increasing our monitoring of these local decisions to steer policy in a more humane direction, using legal advocacy where necessary. We will also be focusing our efforts at educating people about the legal protections available for these populations. 

We Need Your Support

These ambitions aren’t just lofty, they’re necessary. Our response will need to evolve along with the crisis as cities–and our own staff–gain our footing in a new world without in-person public meetings while the courts are closed. We rely on support from our network throughout the state for ideas, participating in local government, and donations. If you have ideas about how we can direct our efforts to respond, please reach out to us at Please continue to contribute to CaRLA and support our work as we move through this difficult time. We rely on individual monthly donations for a large portion of our budget, and we are counting on your continued support. Most important, stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands.