Critical Needs of Latino Community Members Seeking COVID-19 Services in San Francisco’s Mission District

by Senior Analyst Ryan Fukumori

Organizations in the Mission District serve a community that is predominantly Latino, with many non-English speakers and immigrants, including undocumented residents. This community has disproportionately suffered the financial and health-related effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. These disparities can be attributed to preexisting structural inequalities, with many Latinos clustered in industries and residences that are vulnerable to financial loss and/or heightened risk of virus exposure. There are many critical needs among community members seeking nonprofit community-based services in the Mission District during the pandemic.

Heightened health risks for San Francisco Latinos
COVID-19 testing data shows that Latinos have been infected at much higher rates than San Francisco residents as a whole. Latinos have accounted for 50% of positive COVID-19 cases citywide, while making up only 15% of the city population. An April 2020 UCSF study of Mission District residents and workers further revealed the demographic and socioeconomic disparities in positive COVID-19 cases:

  • 44% of 2,959 community members tested were Latino
  • 95% of the 62 positive COVID-19 cases were Latino
  • 90% of community members who tested positive cannot work from home
  • 89% of community members who tested positive make less than $50,000 a year
  • 12% of Latinos in California do not have health insurance, the highest total among any racial/ethnic group statewide (Source: California Health Interview Survey, 2017)

The UCSF study suggests that Latino residents’ high rates of employment in essential industries and other frontline jobs has been a major factor in the prevalence of COVID-19 among Latinos in the Mission District, and San Francisco as a whole.

As our medical knowledge about COVID-19 evolves, it is clear there will be long-term health implications for the spread of the novel coronavirus in Latino communities. Many people experience lingering symptoms for long periods after the initial infection. It will be crucial for Mission District organizations to provide social supports and other services for people in the process of recovering from the disease. This is especially important given the prevalence of uninsured Latinos, who are likely growing in number as community members lose their employer-sponsored healthcare amid widespread job loss.

Income loss and housing crises
Even as high rates of participation in frontline jobs has helped fuel the spread of COVID-19 among San Francisco Latinos, a far greater number of community members have lost their jobs or faced reduced income. Our community has experienced layoffs at much higher rates than San Franciscans as a whole.

For example:

  • 13% unemployment rate in San Francisco as of May 2020 (up from 2% in March 2020)
  • 73% of 1,358 community members seeking services have lost their job due to the pandemic 

Furthermore, most people who retained their jobs had their hours and/or pay cut. All in all, 96% of community members seeking services had lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, 38% reported that another household member had also lost their job.

Our community faces a widespread crisis in being unable to pay rent: They are far less likely to still be able to pay rent than all city residents, according to data from a survey of property managers and landlords in San Francisco.

Of note:

  • 3% of tenants citywide were unable to pay rent in May 2020
  • 51% of our community members seeking services were unable to pay rent in May 2020

In other words, only a small fraction of San Franciscans were unable to pay rent, but a large number of our community members belong to that small fraction. While San Francisco’s moratorium laws will protect tenants from eviction due to inability to pay rent, many renters will still face increased debts from this backlog and will need additional financial assistance and planning support.

Additionally, while nearly all community members seeking services named housing as their most urgent expense, many cited other critical needs that they had trouble affording. It should be noted that 75% of community members seeking services were ineligible for the stimulus funds from the CARES Act, further compounding the difficulty of paying for basic needs.

From worsening disparities to equitable recovery
Given that San Francisco Latinos have experienced multiple adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic — and at significantly heightened rates — it is crucial that community-based organizations in the Mission have the resources to support residents recovering from financial loss, housing risk, health complications or other challenges. In addition, these resources will fuel programs geared toward equitable recovery, aiming to not just meet the immediate needs of community members, but addressing the structural deficits and policies that worsened these challenges in the first place, and promoting community resiliency ahead of future potential incidents.

Pivoting from systemic crisis to equitable recovery will require action in many different areas, including these six domains:

  1. Citywide expansion of affordable-housing development;  
  2. Jobs across all industries with living wages, paid sick leave and health care;  
  3. Policies and programs for asset-building in low-income communities;  
  4. Enhancement of social services for all residents, including public health system;  
  5. Equal access to computers, high-speed internet and digital literacy tools; and  
  6. Decision-making and planning with community stakeholders

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how longtime structural inequities shaped the unequal consequences of the disease — both financial and medical — for low-income Latinos in San Francisco. It is crucial that we respond to this crisis by striving to eradicate these deeper systemic issues that the pandemic has laid bare.




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