The lack of affordable housing in the Yuba-Sutter area was an issue long before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, but with federal unemployment insurance expected to be decreased soon and uncertainty surrounding the state’s eviction moratorium, the problem looks like it will only get worse in the days ahead.

Gus Becerra, executive director of the Regional Housing Authority, said the area has a housing shortage across the board.

“Our waitlists are bursting at the seams, and I think COVID-19 has made it worse because more people have lost their jobs. We are seeing more applications being submitted on our online portal for programs and housing, and some waitlists have had to be closed because the lists are already too long,” Becerra said.

For example, one of the authority’s properties in Yuba City provides 24 housing units for seniors. With very little turnover in tenants, his team had to close the waiting list after it reached more than 700 applicants.

The Regional Housing Authority is an affordable housing developer, property manager and also administers programs like Section 8 rental assistance, the owner-occupied rehab program, and the first-time home buyer program. The team of 34 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees serve communities in Sutter, Yuba, Colusa and Nevada counties.

As a landlord itself, Becerra said, the authority has worked with many of its tenants experiencing financial struggles on payback agreements.

With a high demand for affordable housing and rent prices on the rise, more and more people are turning to roommates to bridge the gap, Becerra said. In some cases, they’ve seen different families move in together.

“The biggest challenge right now is finding a place, because inventory is so low,” Becerra said. “It isn’t a new issue, that was the case before the pandemic began.”

Becerra said if the federal government reduces or eliminates the weekly $600 in benefits many unemployed Americans are relying on currently, the problem will likely get worse. On top of that, the federal eviction moratorium preventing landlords from evicting tenants due to non-payment is set to expire this week. While California Gov. Gavin Newsom extended the program until the end of September, it’s ultimately up to local governments to make the decision on whether or not to halt renter evictions.

“Once that hits, it could lead to a large wave of homeless in the community,” Becerra said. “I expect to see even more people coming in our door in need of assistance, and if the federal financial assistance ends, I expect an even greater number. Either way, the need for affordable housing will increase dramatically.”

The Regional Housing Authority is currently accepting applications for several different programs, including housing for agricultural/cannery workers; public housing for seniors or disabled in Live Oak; its project-based voucher waiting lists; and its Housing Choice Voucher waitlist.

Becerra said residents interested in signing up for any of the Regional Housing Authority’s programs or applying for permanent housing can find more information at http://www.regionalha.org/. Due to COVID-19, the authority has modified its hours to have its office open to the public Monday-Thursday from 8 a.m. to noon.

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