In California, we have a housing crisis of epic proportion. There is a shortage of housing, whether to rent or buy. Housing costs have skyrocketed, making it hard for many Californians to keep a roof over their heads. And across the state we are grappling with failures to make housing equitable and sustainable. Because these challenges are longstanding and complex, tackling the housing crisis requires creative thinking and a willingness to attack the problem from all angles. For example, increasing racial equity in homeownership may require us to look at current lending practices and find ways to create more inclusionary housing developments in urban and suburban areas statewide.
To address these complex and challenging problems, on November 3, 2021, Attorney General Bonta launched a Housing Strike Force to advance housing access, affordability, and equity in California.
Housing Strike Force
The Housing Strike Force is comprised of deputy attorneys general with a broad range of expertise in housing, consumer protection and tenants’ rights, land use, environmental, environmental justice, and civil rights. The goal of this team is to work with state agencies and other partners to address the housing crisis on a systemic level, and, where required, to enforce state laws aimed at increasing housing supply and providing housing security and stability to all Californians. Specifically, the Housing Strike Force will:
- Enforce state housing and development laws in the Attorney General’s independent capacity and on behalf of DOJ’s client agencies;
- Enforce tenant rights, mortgage servicing, and other consumer protection laws;
- Issue consumer alerts advising tenants and homeowners on their protections under state and federal law;
- Issue guidance letters to local governments on state housing laws;
- Defend state housing and tenant protection laws from legal challenges; and
- Advocate with the state legislature, federal agencies, and other state agencies to advance a right to housing.
The Housing Strike Force encourages Californians to send complaints or tips related to housing to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Attorney General's Office and its Housing Crisis Strike Force have several tools to advance housing access, affordability, and equity in California.
The causes and effects of California’s housing crisis are many, and have existed for decades. According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, these include:
- Not enough housing being built: Despite a projected need of 180,000 additional homes annually, housing production has averaged fewer than 80,000 new homes each year since 2008, and ongoing production continues to fall short.
- Increased inequality and lack of opportunities: Lack of supply and rising costs are compounding growing inequality and limiting advancement opportunities for all Californians. Without intervention, much of the new housing growth will be in areas where growth is unconstrained, but where fewer jobs are available to the families that live there. This increases greenhouse gas emissions and may lead to other environmental risks.
- Too much of people's incomes going toward rent: The majority of Californian renters — more than 3 million households — pay more than 30 percent of their income toward rent. Nearly one-third — more than 1.5 million households — pay more than 50 percent of their income toward rent.
- Fewer people becoming homeowners: Overall homeownership rates are at their lowest since the 1940s.
- Disproportionate number of Californians experiencing homelessness: California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s population, but 22 percent of the nation’s homeless population.
- Many people are facing multiple barriers beyond just cost in trying to find an affordable place to live: For California’s vulnerable populations, discrimination and inadequate accommodations for people with disabilities are worsening housing cost and affordability challenges.
What We’ve Done
Historically, the Office of the Attorney General has sought to prevent discrimination in the housing market and ensure that tenants’ rights are protected at foreclosure sales, and has investigated the business practices of large landlords. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the Attorney General has provided support in crafting legislation and executive orders related to housing, including the eviction moratorium and programs such as Project Homekey.
As the state’s lawyer, we defend against challenges to policies and programs related to housing security. For example, we successfully defended against an action to enjoin and defund Project Homekey, a state program that has served as a national model to provide housing for people experiencing homelessness, quickly and efficiently. To date, more than 8,000 individuals have secured housing over the last year as a direct result of this program. We are currently defending the state’s eviction moratorium and other state laws that advance housing availability and affordability in the state.
What We’re Doing
In the coming months, Attorney General Bonta will travel across the state to meet with tenant groups and other stakeholders to identify opportunities for the Housing Strike Force to leverage the tools of the Office of the Attorney General to protect California’s tenants. These discussions may lead to future inquiries and selective enforcement actions against those violating state laws.
What We’ve Done
While the Housing Strike Force is new, the Attorney General’s work to alleviate the crisis of housing availability is not. Recently, we successfully defended the constitutionality of the Housing Accountability Act, an important law that protects housing availability and affordability by imposing limits on the ability of cities to reject proposals for housing developments that otherwise satisfy general plan and zoning requirements.
In the past, the Attorney General’s Office has also brought legal actions to ensure that local governments comply with state regional planning and other housing-related laws, including an obligation to adequately plan for housing when planning for additional jobs and businesses, and has promoted effective environmental justice planning at the local level.
What We’re Doing
The Housing Strike Force will work with other state agencies, such as the Department of Housing and Community Development, to assist cities and counties across the state in complying with laws intended to boost housing production to alleviate the housing shortage crisis, paying particular attention to California’s most vulnerable individuals and families.
The Housing Strike Force will also actively work with local governments to ensure that state housing laws are followed, and defending many of those same laws from legal challenges. More information will be provided here as those matters reach resolution.
In addition to potential investigations and legal enforcement actions, the Attorney General may issue guidance letters related to housing laws to provide clarity to local governments and the public regarding the Attorney General’s interpretation of specific laws.
California tenants and homeowners have protections under state and federal law. Below are resources and information to help Californians avail themselves of these protections:
State and federal law provides California tenants and homeowners with certain protections. Key resources include:
- Law Help CA - a resource of the State Bar, Legal Services Corporation, and Legal Services Corporation
- State Court Self-Help Centers
- State Bar of California’s Lawyer Referral Services Directory
- Housing Is Key—Eviction Protection Guideline and Resources
- California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program, which provides financial assistance with unpaid rent and utilities to eligible tenants and landlords
- Consumer Alert for Homeowners and Tenants on their rights and protections under California law
By law, the Attorney General cannot represent individual victims facing eviction or other tenant issues. If you have a legal issue regarding housing or you are seeking legal representation, please contact your local county bar association, local legal aid organizations, or your county court’s respective self-help centers for an appropriate referral.
If you owe back rent go to the California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program – they can help eligible tenants who owe back rent or utility payments.
If you are at risk of eviction, or think your rights as a tenant are being violated, you should seek legal advice to help you assert you rights. If you are sued, or receive an eviction notice, don't ignore it – get help. See LawHelpCA and the State Bar for a list of legal aid programs as well as other free or low-cost resources in your area. Your local county superior court may also have a self-help program that can assist you.
The California Courts’ webpage is an important source of information on landlord/tenant issues, including self-help information about evictions, foreclosures, rent control, security deposits and legal service programs that are available to help you.
Attorney General Bonta recognizes that families across the state may be facing increased difficulty affording rent as the result of layoffs, reduced working hours, and other impacts of COVID-19-related economic shock. Tenants and landlords can find more details about protections in place during COVID-19 at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19#tenants.
Many cities and counties have also taken action to help tenants during the COVID-19 crisis. Contact your local city or county through the 311 line or check your local government website for further information on protections in your area.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing receives and investigates complaints related to housing discrimination. If you believe you have been the victim of discrimination, you can file a complaint here: https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/ComplaintProcess/.
Know Your Rights: The California's Homeowner Bill of Rights provides protections to homeowners facing foreclosure.
If you believe your servicer has violated the Homeowner Bill of Rights, seek legal aid at https://www.lawhelpca.org/. You can also report violations to the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Business Oversight, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Foreclosures: If you are having trouble making payments, contact your servicer to ask for help and keep following up with your servicer about any foreclosure-prevention application you submit. You can also find legal aid by going to https://www.lawhelpca.org/, or get advice from a US Department of Housing and Urban Development approved Housing Counselor. For more information about the foreclosure process, scams to watch out for, and resources that may help you, see Loan Modification Fraud and Foreclosure Rescue Scams.
Forbearances: Forbearance plans allow you to temporarily lower or postpone your monthly mortgage payment for a certain period of time, but you must make up those payments later. To learn more about forbearances, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's What Is Forbearance web page.
Some homeowners with a federally backed mortgage who are experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 may be able to get a forbearance. Even if you do not have a federally backed mortgage, many financial institutions have agreed to provide forbearances or other relief to homeowners impacted by COVID-19. Contact your servicer to discuss your options. More information on this can be found at https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/COVID-19#mortgage.