(Photo via Pedro Godoy/Flickr)

The Contra Costa Budget Justice Coalition told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday the best way to fight COVID-19 disparities among the county’s communities of color is through addressing other areas of inequity.

The coalition — comprised of members of county groups working for equity and transparency in the county’s budget process — said people in those communities are suffering higher rates of infection and death than the county’s white residents.

The group said, as of Dec. 19, Latinx residents of Contra Costa had an infection rate six times that of the county’s white population and were 1.7 times as likely to die from COVID-19.

Black residents were 2.5 times more likely to be infected than white residents, with a death rate about 1.3 times higher. People of Asian descent were 1.4 times more likely to be infected, with a death rate slightly smaller than that of whites.

The analysis of county health data shows white residents have received 42 percent of vaccinations while only accounting for 23 percent of the coronavirus cases in Contra Costa.

Latinx residents make up 32 percent of county cases while so far only receiving 14 percent of the vaccinations. Black residents have received 5 percent of the vaccinations while accounting for 7 percent of cases. Asian residents have received 16 percent of the vaccinations while making up 8 percent of county cases.

The coalition said health disparities can be resolved in more ways than simply increasing vaccinations.

“We’re asking that you apply an equity lens to challenging decisions you’re going to be making and prioritize the issues that we’ve been talking about today, and essential services are critical,” said Dan Geiger, the coalition’s coordinator and director of the Human Services Alliance of Contra Costa.

Housing was a large component of the virtual conversation. The coalition said renters of color already faced a housing crisis in Contra Costa before the pandemic. The majority of the county’s Black, Latinx and immigrant residents are renters who have been hit hardest.
Coalition member Mia Carbajal said it needs to be viewed through the “three Ps.”

“Production of quality, affordability housing; the prevention of further displacement and homelessness; and tenant protections, all of which are necessary to solving the regional issue,” she said.

The group wants the county to prioritize temporary housing, especially for undocumented people.

“They are not eligible for unemployment insurance or stipend from state or federal government, so they must continue to work, even when infected, and fear of deportation affects COVID education and outreach efforts,” said coalition member Linda Olvera. “So stipends or some form of financial assistance could address some of these challenges.”

According to the Bay Area Equity Atlas, 22,300 Contra Costa households were behind in rent by late December 2020 — $88 million in unpaid rent, which works out to be about $4,100 per household behind.

According to data presented by the coalition, “The vast majority of renters behind on rent are low-income, Covid-impacted, and renters of color, Most low-income renters are current on rent, but many are relying on credit cards and borrowing from family and friends to meet household needs.”

The group asked supervisors to create an equity plan for future COVID relief fund redistribution connected to neighborhood stabilization efforts and to stabilize low-income homeowners and their tenants through a preservation fund. They also want the county to transfer tax-foreclosed properties to non-profit housing organizations with the capacity to stabilize and add density.

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, the board unanimously decided to join the state’s emergency rental assistance program, directing its $70,693,048 allotment of federal funds into the state-run program to benefit Contra Costa residents. The county will keep an additional $514,445 in federal money for local community engagement and program outreach.

The board will come back in March to discuss more program details.