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The Other Housing Crisis: Affordable Rentals

by Pamela Leavey

I’ve been wondering when the other shoe would drop with the housing crisis and the media would get around to writing about the other housing crisis: Affordable Rentals. As the caption on the graphic below says, the “Shortage of affordable rentals in cities dwarfs issue of rising foreclosures.”

Ask anyone who lives in a large city, they’ll tell you, affordable rentals are a thing of the past. If you are lucky enough, like I am, you might live in a rent controlled building, where your rent can’t get raised at the landlords’s whim from “$1,200 to $1,425” in the blink of an eye like Simon and Jennifer Morris, who abandoned their “one-bedroom apartment when the rent rose from $1,200 to $1,425.” The Morris’s found that “public housing has long waiting lists, so they moved into a shelter for dislocated families in a converted YMCA,” and from there, their goal was to “save enough money to move south and buy a home where costs are lower.”

Around them, southwestern Connecticut’s Fairfield County is booming, due partly to an influx of investment banks. New housing projects routinely cater to the affluent.

“But everybody forgets the poor guy — the one who pumps your gas, who builds your hotel, who bags your groceries,” said Simon Morris, a 35-year-old carpenter. “The cost of living is driving us out.”

On both coasts of the United States, and many cities in between, hundreds of thousands of renters face comparable plights. The home mortgage crisis has received far more notice, but experts say the ranks of renters with dire housing problems are growing faster than the ranks of defaulting homeowners.

The Center for Housing Policy reports that the number of working-family renters paying more than half their income for housing has soared from 1 million to 2.1 million since 1997. Overall, advocacy groups say there are 9 million low-income renter households and only 6.2 million units they can reasonably afford.

“These people spend huge portions of their income on their housing,” said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “They don’t do things that we all would like to do — save money to buy a house, or for college or retirement. It’s a very day-to-day existence.”

While I might be lucky enough to live in a rent controlled building, the bottom line for me after living in the Los Angeles area for nearly 18 years now and 14 years in the same apartment, is that I can not afford to move. I think about it every now and then but rents for a 2 bedroom apartment in my area are nearly double what I pay now and that includes any vacancies that come along in my building.

Rents started creeping up in my neighborhood around the same time prices started going up for houses in the area. So, this nice little 50’s style courtyard building in south-east corner of the San Fernando Valley, that I call home will stay for some time to come. And that’s exactly how other long-term residents of my building feel as well. All around us, old buildings like ours are being torn down and being replaced by either luxury apartments or condominiums. We all wonder when the day will come when we get the notice that our building has been sold down the river to a developer and we all hope it doesn’t… Because chances are slim that any of will find anything affordable.

And, still although I know I can’t afford to move, the longing to move is sometimes inescapable… As my daughter prepares to head to northern California to attend college, I have thought about moving up north, to be closer to her and the ocean, which I sorely miss after living 33 years on the Massachusetts coast before moving to Los Angeles. But, I can’t afford the rents up north either, they are as high or higher than here in my Los Angeles neighborhood.

I’m not sure what the answer is to fix the housing mess. Right up the street some lovely new high-rises are going up and the big signs on them say affordable new apartments, but that’s not the case for folks who are living on a low or fixed income. The new apartments are not affordable, the rents are as sky high as the buildings.

Bush has made a mess of our economy, as I have said here many times before. I moved to Los Angeles in January 1990, as the economy in Massachusetts tanked under Bush I. And now, Bush II is leaving this country is another fine economic mess that will take a long time to recover from. Bloomberg reports that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan criticizes Bush in a new book, “for pursuing an economic agenda driven by politics rather than sound policy, with little concern for future consequences.” He’s on the money. No pun intended.

All around America, “the cost of living is driving us out” of our neighborhoods. Where will it stop? When do we say…

Enough Is Enough.

*Graphic from MSNBC front page*

2 Responses to “The Other Housing Crisis: Affordable Rentals”

  1. You are so right. LA is just a mess right now. I am one of those people who was displaced by a large luxury building. I went from paying $625 to paying $900. The $2500 that they give you to move is just a joke.

    This place has been pillaged. LA used to be a great place to live. Now everyone is desperate for money and a place to live.

    There’s only one solution: get out while you can.

  2. The Los Angeles renter has gone the way of the dodo. As any consumer worker in Los Angeles can tell you…its crazy! Now what can one do about it? – NOTHING…except pay higher rents or escape L.A..
    People who rent in L.A. will see a deterioration of their quality of life and…poverty is sure to follow. The day has come and I can say this with clarity…for the average consumer worker “L.A. is dead”. In fact California is dead.
    Now…am I whinning? or is it a fact. Your choice…renters