The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to exacerbate the nation’s affordable housing crisis, and millions of renters could face eviction because of job and income losses when state and federal moratoriums are lifted. Some states make addressing residents’ needs for stable and affordable housing more difficult for cities and counties though state laws that preempt local rent regulations, inclusionary zoning, or eviction protections.
In this brief, we examine how state preemption of local housing policies has affected crisis response and recovery efforts in three states: California, Florida, and Illinois. We find that state preemption constrained local housing policy responses to COVID-19 in all three states. Local governments did not consider adopting local protections that would flout state preemption laws even if such protections could help stabilize housing for at-risk renters. Even local actions that were not directly covered by state preemption laws were “chilled” by concerns that acting would spark legal challenges or new preemption efforts at the state level. However, preemption was generally not seen as the main barrier to local action; a lack of resources and political will was the major obstacle to stronger local laws and policies to protect vulnerable renters.
The findings across the three states reveal the potential for more effective governance and stronger collaboration to stabilize housing for at-risk families, protect public health, reduce economic hardship, and make communities more resilient to future calamities.