A $300 rent hike threw Noemi Hernandez’ finances into a tizzy in 2016, forcing the part-time cashier to apply for food stamps and curtail spending on other things. A year later, her rent went up another $160.
Now, Hernandez and her parents, who share her two-bedroom apartment, are looking to move from the Ontario complex they called home for the past 18 years. Her family never eats out. They don’t shop for clothes. Her father sometimes has to scrimp on medication to treat high blood pressure and diabetes.
“It’s out of control,” Hernandez, 37, said of her family’s rent, which consumes 70 percent of their take-home pay. “We have the minimum we need. We don’t go anywhere. We don’t go out.”
Hernandez’ situation is typical for many Southern California tenants after seven straight years of steadily rising rents and rock-bottom vacancy rates, responses to a recent Southern California News Group online survey show.
Because rent is gobbling up more and more of tenants’ paychecks, some are working side jobs, more than 300 survey responses show. Others have eliminated entertainment and dining out. And in some cases, they had to cut back on food, car repairs, dental work and even medical care.
“Really, it’s going to come to the point where I get two roommates or I move out of state or out of L.A.,” said Burbank renter Allison Murphy, 29, a public school teacher and graduate student who dips into her student loans to cover the $1,750-a-month rent on her one-bedroom apartment.
“I haven’t kept some medical appointments because it’s a choice between a co-pay and food,” added Gina Elliott-DiIoia, 38, of Whittier, who’s 15-year-old daughter has to share a room with her 9-year-old because they can’t afford a bigger apartment. Her husband took a second job as a Lyft driver to help pay their $1,699-a-month rent.
Southern California rent has been rising steadily since the end of 2010, figures show.
The Consumer Price Index shows Southern California rent has virtually doubled since 2000, with rent increasing 5.1 percent in 2017 alone.
Separate figures from market trackers Reis Inc. and RealPage show apartment rents in the region rose between 3 percent and 5.5 percent last year.
A more detailed breakdown by Reis for the fourth quarter of last year shows:
* Los Angeles County had the region’s highest average asking rent: $1,883 a month, up $92 from the fourth quarter of 2016. That’s the 10th-highest asking rent among 82 big-city metro areas Reis tracks. During the past seven years, Los Angeles County rents increased $482 a month.
* Orange County’s asking rent wasn’t far behind, averaging $1,871 a month, up $70 to 11th highest among big-city metros. O.C. apartment tenants pay an average of $355 more a month than seven years ago.
* Inland Empire rents averaged $1,299 a month, up $34 in a year to 26th highest among big-city metros. The average rent in Riverside and San Bernardino counties jumped $266 a month since the end of 2010.
To put that in perspective, the average for all 82 U.S. markets was $1,368 a month, slightly higher than in the Inland Empire.
New York and San Francisco had the nation’s highest apartment rents, averaging $3,587 and $3,027 a month, respectively. Wichita was the most affordable market, with rents averaging $602 a month.
Because of low vacancy rates, RealPage forecasts Southern California rents will continue rising this year, increasing by 3 percent to 4 percent in Orange County and the Inland Empire, with slightly smaller gains in Los Angeles County because of new apartment construction in downtown Los Angeles.
While rent hikes averaged from $34 to $92 a month last year, many tenants saw even bigger increases, especially where there haven’t been any rent hikes for a while.
Caltech software engineer Nathaniel Stickley, 37, decided to move closer to work in Pasadena after rent for his Eastvale apartment jumped $300 a month to $2,150 last summer.
He found a two-bedroom house for $2,200 a month but figures he’s saving $100 in gasoline after cutting out the 86-mile commute.
Nonetheless, his finances are tight since his rent still is $200 more than he was paying two years ago.
“My car needs approximately $2,000 worth of repairs and maintenance, but I can’t spare that at the moment,” Stickley said in an email, adding that he also had to defer payments on medical and dental bills for his family.
“We’ve been putting things off,” he said.
Stickley and his wife plan to move in the next five or six years to Virginia, where it’s affordable to buy a house.
“The rental market is going in the wrong direction. Costs are increasing faster than incomes, and new homes and apartments are not being built quickly enough,” he said.
AJ Moore, 56, of Long Beach doesn’t begrudge his landlord for raising his rent $300 a month, saying his two-bedroom unit is still cheap at $1,695 a month.
“According to (the owners), it’s fair rent. It probably is,” said Moore, who is cutting back on entertainment expenses. “You go on the Internet, and they’re going for $1,750.”
Economists consider tenants “rent burdened” if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.
About 55 percent of Southern California renters fell into that category in 2016, U.S. Census figures show. Nationally, 46 percent of U.S. tenants were rent burdened.
For newlyweds Judy and Alex Cardoza it’s even worse. About half of their take-home pay goes toward the $1,738 they pay monthly for a one-bedroom unit in Mission Viejo.
And their rent is set to go up to $1,803 when their lease expires in March.
“We are actually looking to find a cheaper place,” said Judy, 34, who works part time as a contract archaeologist at construction sites.
Alex, 33, works full time as a construction soil technician; rain and fires put Judy out of work for several months.
They cut back on TV, entertainment and dining out.
They even had to put off their honeymoon after getting married in September. They had planned to go camping.
“That never happened,” Judy said. “We actually spent our wedding money on one month’s rent. We’re putting it off until we’re in a better situation.”
A good-paying job is no guarantee the rent will be affordable.
A single mother of two earning $85,000 a year had to trade in her car for a cheaper model and get two side jobs as a dog walker and interior designer to afford her $2,230-a-month rent in Rancho Mission Viejo, east of San Juan Capistrano. She’s just breaking even, said the mom, who asked that her name not be used.
Rent has almost doubled for Pacoima middle school teacher Allison Murphy after she moved out of a two-bedroom unit she shared with her ex-boyfriend.
She had been paying $1,000 a month. Now her one-bedroom apartment in Burbank costs $1,750 — $300 more than similar units in the complex fetched three years ago, she said.
“It’s not great. It isn’t worth $1,750,” Murphy said. “And they charge crazy utility fees, like $100 a month. It goes up in the winter because they heat the pool, and I don’t use the pool. I’m a single person living in a one-bedroom, but they charge everyone the same amount for utilities.”
Murphy works full time while pursuing her master’s degree at Cal State Northridge.
She spends about 60 percent of her take-home pay on rent. She wouldn’t have enough were it not for her student loans. So she’s essentially going into debt to pay her rent, she said.
Gina Elliott-DiIoia and her husband, Eli, spend about half their income on their $1,699-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in east Whittier. Now she’s trying to figure out how to pay $500 to fix her car, which recently failed a smog test.
“Everything has gone up except the salary of regular working people,” said Elliott-DiIoia, who works as an information processing technician for the county of Orange. Her husband works part-time in the kitchen of a chain restaurant.
Her son spends his days in the living room to give his teenage sister some privacy in the bedroom they share. He can’t play outdoors unless he goes to a park since management forbids running, playing ball or skateboarding in the complex.
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