CITYWIDE — In August 2011, the Santa Monica Housing Authority opened up its affordable housing waiting list for two days.
In under 35 hours, 33,000 applications rushed in from people from Santa Monica and other localities seeking access to a variety of subsidized housing programs available in the city.
The outpouring of need is not only depressingly normal, it’s nationwide, said Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
The coalition released a report Wednesday entitled “Out of Reach,” an analysis that shows the amount of affordable housing and housing assistance dropping even as need and rental prices rise.
According to the report, the poor economy and rising foreclosure rate has forced moderate income households off the home ownership track, instead causing them to enter the rental housing market and vacancy rates to drop.
As more dollars chase fewer apartments, rents begin to rise and housing becomes too expensive for the neediest individuals.
In California, considered the second most expensive state in the nation after Hawaii, a two-bedroom apartment costs around $1,353 per month, including basic utilities.
In order to afford that level of rent without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, the federal standard of affordability, a household would have to bring in $54,127 per year, or $26.02 per hour assuming a 40-hour work week.
The average wage for a renter in California is only $17.68 per hour. That gap is reflected in almost every community throughout the report.
“The numbers in ‘Out of Reach’ demonstrate that this year, in every community across the country, there are renters working full-time who are unable to afford the rents where they live,” the report reads.
The dearth of affordable housing is particularly apparent in Los Angeles, where a previous study by the coalition showed that there are only 18 units that are both affordable and available for every 100 low-income individuals, said Megan Bolton, the senior research analyst with NLIHC.
“There’s more demand and less desire to own a home,” Bolton said. “Rental vacancy rates are going down and rents are going up.”
Jim Clarke, the executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, isn’t sure that recent figures have shown the demand described in the report, which looked at figures that showed a dropping home ownership rate as of the fourth quarter of 2011.
“Probably in the last six months, there’s been no spike in tenant screening services,” Clarke said, describing the current situation as a renters market.
In Santa Monica, where roughly 70 percent of households rent, officials have long pursued policies to build affordable housing, including an affordable housing trust fund, an inclusionary ordinance that requires market-rate construction to provide either affordable units or in-lieu fees and considerable development through the Redevelopment Agency.
Redevelopment agencies, which were dissolved by an act of the Legislature upheld by the California Supreme Court in February, were required to put 20 percent of their funds toward affordable housing.
Santa Monica’s contributed considerably more, accounting for 75 percent of the funding in the affordable housing trust fund.
With that gone, officials are looking at other policies, including expanding the affordable housing fee to other kinds of development that don’t have to pay it, like creative office space and hotels.
On the other side of the coin, a development agreement up for consideration by the City Council on March 20 includes living wage and local hiring provisions for its employees.
It was an attempt on the part of the Planning Commission to ensure that those who work in Santa Monica can also afford to live in the city, despite the landowner’s protestations that the requirements could hurt the financial viability of the project — a hotel.
Finding ways to support those kinds of workers is an obligation, even in a place with land values like those in Santa Monica, Crowley said.
“They’re not people from Mars, they’re the people who do the jobs every day,” Crowley said. “That’s an important thing that needs to be considered.”
Although the loss of redevelopment money has made it more difficult to provide housing for people of all income levels, it’s still a responsibility that Santa Monica is committed to, City Councilmember Kevin McKeown wrote in an e-mail.
“Our core values call on us to remain a complete community, not exclusively a beachside bastion of the exceptionally well-to-do, and to practice policies of economic justice that let both homeowner and rental households enjoy Santa Monica, adequately supported by workers who earn fair wages,” McKeown wrote.
California legislators are working to fill the $1 billion gap left by redevelopment.
Senate Bill 1220, the Homes Act, would provide between $400 and $900 million a year for affordable housing by levying a fee on real estate transactions.
Shamus Roller, executive director of Housing California, an advocacy group for affordable housing and the prevention of homelessness, calls it a “significant step in the right direction.”
“One piece I would like to point out is how important a stable and affordable home is to people’s health in the broadest sense,” Roller said. “It’s important for kids’ educational outcomes, their health outcomes and making sure they have a safe and stable place. It’s a baseline service in making sure that we have a healthy community.”
The fight is too much for cities, counties and even states to win alone, Crowley said.
National policies like a federal housing trust fund or other dedicated sources of revenue to expand the supply of rental housing for the extremely low-income bracket would help the problem considerably, she said.