Story by Belen Acosta, Graphic by Luis Sanchez
After a full day of class and an extra two hours of tutoring at John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary School, Adonis Cabeas tried to finish his reading log while he laid on the top bunk in the master bedroom, ignoring his older brother’s toes poking his back from beneath him and the noise of his parents flipping through the channels.
“I have a hard time in math and reading, but tutoring made it easier,” Cabeas, 9, said. “I try to finish all my homework at school because it’s too hard to do it at home.”
Cabeas is one of the many young people living in an overcrowded home.
Claudia Solari, a senior research associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Community Policy Center at Urban Institute, said resources like public libraries provide great opportunities for students to do their work. However, that doesn’t solve other issues at home.
“The noise surrounding the home, and people’s different schedules could disrupt children’s sleep,” she said. “Lacking sleep has a lot of implications for your focus, behavior, and mood during the day, and a library can’t help that.”
Public libraries and other study locations have been closed since stay-at-home measures were implemented, to help stop community spread of COVID-19. With schools also continuing to be closed across the state, students are left with few or no study locations beyond their homes.
Doctors conducting a 2016 study found that high school students in overcrowded housing are among the least likely to graduate or go to college.
Nationwide trends show that cramped households go hand in hand with the economically disadvantaged.
In Long Beach, 12.1% of residents – almost 20,000 – live in homes where more than one person occupies a room, according to figures from the American Community Survey. This standard is associated with a household being overcrowded.
Annually, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided Long Beach approximately $9 million in Section 8 vouchers. As reported on Long Beach’s most recent annual action plan, the city plan to use numerous funding sources to create and preserve low-income affordable housing, expanding “economic opportunities for low-income households,” and sustaining other programs.
Even with government help, the city still lacks affordable housing and single-family detached units, a shortage that hasn’t kept up with an escalating population. Only 3,255 of the 7,048 units Long Beach must allocate for its Regional Housing Needs Assessment have received permits.
By law, Los Angeles County property managers cannot allow their units to be overfilled, but it is a problem that is too hard to keep track of.
“Overcrowded housing is a big issue in our city, but [that] doesn’t necessarily mean that it will ever go away, no matter what the policies are,” said Jonathan Sanchez, a property manager in Long Beach.
However some advocates believe that there are numerous policies and actions which could help tackle the problem. A vacancy tax, rent control, and community owned housing are some methods which Maria Lopez of Housing Long Beach points to.
“Housing stability and affordability is an important factor in preparing children for lifelong success,” said Lopez, who has previously lived in overcrowded housing. “So when we look at it that way, our children are really being robbed of their development and success and future stability, as we don’t have affordable and accessible housing.”
Throughout his entire life, Adonis has lived in a three-bedroom and one-bathroom apartment in Cambodia Town with his parents, brother, and three uncles. At home, he rarely studies, but when he does need help with homework, he has to wait until his parents return from work at night.
When school is out, he spends every day playing with friends from his apartment complex, with not a single book or flashcard within sight. While his goal is to be a professional soccer player, he also plans to join his father in landscaping after graduating from high school — with the possibility of going to college .
“I want to go to Long Beach City College when I am older,” he said. “And if I can, I will.”
Carlos Omar contributed to this article.