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Renters receiving no reprieve in 2017

Posted: Friday, Dec 30th, 2016

Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian The homes of Meadow View Apartments in Watsonville.

Rent rises, demand for low-moderate income housing high

WATSONVILLE — With nearly 70,000 people in the county eligible for rental assistance, a new analysis showing that rent has risen 14 to 17 percent in the last year offers little reprieve.

The Fair Market Rent Analysis is released annually by the Housing Authority and looks at the fair market value for different apartments and sizes. The Housing Authority uses those numbers to provide vouchers for communities throughout the county.

But just because someone has a voucher does not mean that they will be able to find a home.

"We have housing vouchers for people who are living on the streets — they can't find housing because there is not enough if it," county spokesman Jason Hoppin said. "Most of these families have just hit a rough patch and are not the chronically homeless individuals you see that give the rest of them a bad name."

Being homeless does not necessarily mean being income-less, leaving some to sleep in their cars and others looking for alternatives.

"It's leading to some of the craziness you see on the streets where someone advertises renting a bus because there is no housing," Hoppin said. "You have people living in yurts, asking if they can park in driveways — it's a sign that something is seriously wrong."

One factor, he said, is that there is just not enough housing for the amount of people who live in the county. In the last 10 years, there was an influx of 30,000 people, with only 3,000 new housing units added. With the inclusionary housing law, 15 percent of any new housing development is to be designated as low to moderate income, but the county is currently looking for grants or ways of creating additional housing units.

One step officials are taking is expanding supportive housing, adding additional beds recipients will pay for until receiving a certificate for Section 8 housing.

For those with mental health issues, the struggle for stable housing can compound the problem.

"With people waiting 10 years or more for a Section 8 certificate, the population we serve here can't even get into housing, and what are they supposed to do out there?" Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Director Erik Riera said. "It is really difficult to address mental health issues when someone doesn't know where they are going to sleep that night or when they are homeless on the street."

The most recent census data shows that about one-fourth of county residents would be income eligible for rental assistance. According to Jenny Panetta, executive director for Housing Authority of the County of Santa Cruz, of the 70,000 who could benefit from services, assistance is only available for 4,400 families.

"Information from the Community Assessment Project shows that most renters are living in housing that is not affordable to them," Panetta said. "As a result, many of these families are doubling up, going without other basic needs in order to pay the rent, or experiencing homelessness."

According to Panetta, the waiting list for a Housing Choice (Section 8 voucher) has been closed for several years, with about 10,000 families on hold.

"Since our waiting list has been closed for several years, it is not a good estimate of need. The need for rental assistance far exceeds the amount of assistance available," she said.

With demand high, and prices higher, Hoppin said he does not think there is any question that the housing market is impacting the ability to house people — driving numbers of homelessness up.

"If there were more housing, there would be fewer homeless persons, period," he said. "There is so much competition and housing is so limited that they are competing with regular people, professionals, for housing and not making it far in the process."

And with one problem being the cost of housing, there is not much the county can do — except supply more. But Hoppin said there is another side to the problem in that Santa Cruz County has a job problem as well. It is something that Panetta is in agreement with.

"It’s a matter of proportion. Rents are climbing rapidly, and have outpaced increases in income," she said.

For 2017, this means that a one bedroom apartment would cost an estimated $1,375. A two bedroom unit would cost $1,828. For an efficiency unit, cost went up 17 percent resting at $1,160. For 26 percent of the county's population, that means all or more than half their income would be required for rent.

"We've identified a pretty significant need, and we need to get those projects going," Hoppin said. "We can't create the conditions to allow this to happen. Housing doesn't need to be one-to-one, but it can't be 10-to-one."

For those wondering where to turn to for help, Panetta said calling 211 is the place to start.

"There is a very effective network of supportive service agencies here in Santa Cruz," she said. "It’s always a good idea to begin with 211, where people can get information about a number of programs and resources, not just for housing assistance, but also for food, child care, and other needs."

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