Tight Market Squeezes Low Income Renters

Oct 18, 2012

In this rental market where inventory is low and prices are up, finding a home has become especially hard for people with low incomes.

Ingrid McDonald uses the pages of an old newspaper to wrap up the knick knacks that line a shelf in her Marina apartment. She pauses when she reaches a picture of her now 19-year-old son.  “My son with his little lizard when he was little. Oh no that’s a frog,” said McDonald. The pair has made a lot of memories here.  They’ve lived in the Marina del Sol apartment complex for about 17 years.  McDonald lives off of disability for her Spina Bifida, and it’s complications that keep her from working.  They can only afford this two bedroom, one bath apartment because of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8.  The program covers most of the rent. “Mine is at $940 because I’ve been here for so long, and I personally because of Section 8 only pay $188 because of my income,” said McDonald.

Back in July, McDonald  received notice that her landlord no longer wanted to accept her voucher. She’s packing today because she has to move by the end of October.  “When I got the letter and I read it, I had to read it a couple of times in order to really understand it.  My heart went into my stomach. You know, I just was like, oh god, now what,” said McDonald.  Landlords voluntarily participate in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.  The owner of McDonald’s complex did not respond to an interview request.  But officials with the Housing Authority of the County of Monterey say it’s common for landlords to come and go from the program as the rental market fluctuates.  “So when rents go up in the private market, in the general market, we see a tightening of the market of availability for housing choice voucher clients because the landlord can choose to rent to anybody on the market, and get a higher rent than we might be able to pay,” said Jean Goebel, Executive Director of the Housing Authority of the County of Monterey.

Over the last few years the foreclosure crisis has flooded the rental market here and across the nation with former home owners.  Michael Bodaken with the Washington DC based National Housing Trust says that’s exacerbated a long standing shortage of affordable housing.  “In every state, not just high costs areas, if you earn a minimum income, a minimum wage, you can’t  afford an average one bedroom apartment, and that’s true in every state in the United States. That’s been more and more true, but it’s been that way for a while,” said Bodaken.

In Monterey County, the Housing Authority will pay higher rents on the Peninsula that in the rest of the county, but it comes at a cost.  “So the downside to that is we are paying more housing assistance payments, which means there’s less people we can help,” said Goebel.  The Housing Authority gets a little over $23-million dollars a year for 4300 vouchers, but because rents are so high, that money only covers 3800.  The rest remain unused.  But the need is still there, the Authority’s waiting list  has about 3000 people on it.  “And that list is closed because HUD doesn’t want you to continue to take lots of applications when there’s not a realistic date close in the future that those people are not going to get housed,” said Goebel.  The reality of the Peninsula’s rental market quickly became clear to Ingrid McDonald.  “As I started making phone calls and going out and looking for apartments, it was not as easy as I thought it was going to be. It’s certainly not,” said McDonald.  But with the help of her family, she finally found a place in Carmel Valley.