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Monterey County’s Workforce Is Struggling To Find A Home

Michelle Loxton
Ismael Lemus searched for an apartment to rent in Carmel, Seaside, Monterey and Marina for almost two months spending almost $400 in application fees.

The lack of affordable housing in the Monterey Bay area is not a new problem. So, the competition for rental units is fierce. This is having an impact on the workforce population, which is key to important industries on the Central Coast.

It’s the end of the workday for Ismael Lemus. Outside a shopping center near his office in Carmel Valley, he explained how hard it has been finding a good place to live here.

"Well I knew that Carmel wasn't going to be cheap," said Lemus.

Last year he decided to move to the area and accept a job as a director in the hospitality industry. Lemus did his research on housing. But some things he didn’t anticipate.

"So I was prepared to pay my dues, but I was not prepared to have to wait so long," Lemus said.

Lemus spent almost two months submitting rental applications for a variety of apartments in Carmel, Seaside, Monterey and Marina.

He says he applied to five rental management companies. Each time paying an application fee.

"I ended up paying close to $400 just in fees," said Lemus.

Lemus’ story of struggling to find a place to live on the Central Coast is not unique.

According to Census data, an estimated 690,000 left California in 2018, a number that has been increasing over the past few years.

Megan Hunter is the Community Development Director for the city of Salinas. She talked about this decline in population during a recent event on housing for local workers.

"We're seeing workforce loss because people are having to move to different states in order to afford to live," said Hunter.

According to Zillow, the median cost of rentals in Monterey County is just over $2,600 per month. That’s increased close to 30% over the last five years.

Hunter says the high cost of housing is impacting the region’s two top industries: tourism and agriculture.

"And if we can't provide affordable housing for those workers, we're going to see things like fields that aren't fully put into production," Hunter said.

To combat the affordable housing crisis, communities across California are mandated by state law to create more homes.

By 2023, Monterey County has to add more than 7300 units to its housing stock.

According to numbers provided by the county, only unincorporated Monterey County is on pace to meet these targets.

Grant Leonard is the housing analyst for the city of Monterey, where most residents are renters. His city has to add 650 units.

"We definitely have a shortage of affordable housing, both for ownership and rentals in the city and throughout the state of California," Leonard said.

A big chunk of units in Monterey is expected to come from a rezoning project in the works off Highway 68 on Garden Road. Over 400 units are expected to be built there.

Credit City of Monterey
City of Monterey
A rezoning project in the works off Highway 68 on Garden Road could create over 400 housing units for the city of Monterey.

"We’re also looking at several city-owned properties that could be redeveloped from their current uses, whether that's a parking lot or a harbor storage yard that could potentially be repurposed to be housing," said Leonard.

The city hopes that solutions like these will ease the burden on those trying to find a home.

For Ismael Lemus, the search for somewhere to live was frustrating. He did eventually find somewhere to live, but not in the area he wanted.

"At the end of the day I ended up going somewhere else just because there is so much demand and they don't have enough offer[s] for the people," Lemus said.

Lemus had to expand his search for a place to live and eventually found one farther away in Salinas. He says sometimes, with traffic, it can take him an hour and 20 minutes to get home.

From 2019 to 2021 Michelle Loxton worked at KAZU as an All Things Considered host and reporter. During that time she reported on a variety of topics from the coronavirus pandemic, the opioid epidemic and local elections. Loxton was part of the news team that won a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for the continued coverage of the four major wildfires that engulfed California’s Central Coast in 2020.
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