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Good morning, and welcome to the Fresnoland Lab newsletter. Today is Friday, May 1st.
With New York City being the major outbreak hub of COVID-19 in the United States, many people have understandably tried to explain the virus’ prevalence there by one thing that separates NYC from most of the US: urban density.
Is there any other land-use topic Californians debate more than density? The state’s climate plans suggest that California cannot meet its carbon emission reduction goals without dramatically increasing the number of housing units built near transit. Fresno and Clovis — one of the last bastions of California where suburban tract home building reigns supreme — regularly debate and sometimes fight state officials over how much dense housing they should plan for and build. It would be hard to leave any public meeting in the region where density is discussed, without at least one elected official exclaiming, “We aren’t San Francisco”. (Fun fact: Los Angeles is actually more dense than San Francisco.)
Last week, the Los Angeles Times examined the evidence so far linking coronavirus and density of homes. The results are inconclusive, at best. This week, ProPublica published data showing that lower-density black and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago were actually more susceptible to getting the virus, compared to other neighborhoods. And while New York City has been hit especially hard, other dense global cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Tokyo, have not.
Density takes many forms. One interesting finding that has started to come out of early research is that rather than density of homes being the problem, the real issue is overcrowding, or several people living under one roof. This is one reason that experts explain why nursing facilities have been the epicenter for many outbreaks.
In Fresno County, 15.7% of renters live in overcrowded conditions, compared to 12% statewide, according to the 2016 Fresno County Housing Element. Overcrowding is especially pronounced in rural, predominantly farmworker communities like Huron, Orange Cove, Mendota, San Joaquin and Firebaugh. In Huron, nearly a third of all renters live in overcrowded conditions. In March, the New York Times reported on a woman who rents out space in her home to farmworkers traveling through town — up to 20 people can be found in a 1,100-square-foot space.
Overcrowding is a result of discriminatory housing policies that previously barred Latinos and other people of color from living in certain area or gaining access to federally secured loans to purchase homes. It is perpetuated by significant poverty and a severe shortage of homes affordable to the thousands of households that are considered low-income in the region. People who live in lower-income housing are far more likely to live in substandard housing, making them more at risk for respiratory diseases, which, as we have learned, don’t co-mingle well with COVID-19.
We don’t have zip code or neighborhood level yet on infection or death rates in most of the central San Joaquin Valley, so it’s difficult to do any meaningful local analysis on this question of whether density or overcrowding have been significant contributors to a person’s vulnerability to the virus. We do know that air quality plays a significant role, and that people of color — especially African Americans — have been much more likely to be impacted by the virus, something that many experts attribute to structural racism.
(What stories are not being told in our coverage right now? Send tips to me: email@example.com)
And now, the week’s top reads:
(For the most recent local coronavirus updates, visit www.fresnobee.com/coronavirus.)
This is what it could look like to reopen the economy in Fresno County. Fresno Bee
Fresno State students will receive relief money next week. Here’s how it works. Fresno Bee
Mendota Mayor fears COVID-19 case numbers are higher than officials say. Valley Public Radio
High-speed rail training facility opens in Selma. Fresno Bee
Grand compromise on California water wars in disarray as Newsom faces new lawsuits. Sacramento Bee
Tenants and landlords brace for a rent strike in May. NBC News
Meet the homeless Californians trying to survive a pandemic. CalMatters
Getting coronavirus mortgage relief is confusing. Here’s how to make the process easier. Los Angeles Times
California’s Green New Deal proposal likely sidelined due to Covid-19. Capital Public Radio
The pandemic will change American retail forever. The Atlantic
Job or health? Restarting the economy threatens to worsen economic inequality. New York Times