As housing prices in the Sacramento area have risen, homeless rates have unfortunately kept pace – and you don’t have to be unemployed to struggle with housing.
Median rents in Sacramento County have increased 18 percent since 2000, according to a Sacramento Housing Alliance report. After the recession hit in 2008, however, the county lost 66 percent of state and federal funding
“Sacramento County needs 62,072 more affordable rental homes to meet the needs of its lowest income renters,” the report says.
With an average month’s rent for a one bedroom apartment in Sacramento at $1,276.
When his wife died of cancer three years ago, John Moore could not afford to pay the mortgage on their North Sacramento home by himself, and eventually the bank foreclosed.
“After 25 years in that house they sold it from underneath me,” he said.
Because the foreclosure damaged his credit, Moore, who has worked as a street sweeper operator for the past 25 years, had difficulty renting an apartment. At first he rented a room in a private home, but left after the person he rented from stole from him.
Having a dog complicates things as well – Moore’s German shepherd isn’t welcome everywhere. For about the past six months he has been staying at Motel 6, the only motel chain he’s found that allows dogs without a security deposit.
“I’m spending $65 a night just for a motel,” he said. “It adds up real quick.”
Spending about $2,000 a month living there makes it difficult to save enough for the security deposit and first and last month rent.
Because Moore is not computer savvy, his daughter took out an ad on Craigslist for him, but so far hasn’t had any offers of housing.
Moore laughed a little sadly, recalling the first apartment he rented in Sacramento for $79 a month.
Jonathan Romos, 32, has two jobs for two different entities at Cal Expo – as groundskeeper and barista, respectively – but nonetheless is finding it difficult to find housing.
He recently returned to Sacramento after leaving for several months because of the housing shortage. He described the search as frustrating and tedious. Because his price range precludes an apartment of his own, he’s been trying to find a room for rent in a house.
He’s learned that many ads on Craigslist are spam, created to drive traffic to sites where people are paid to generate web hits – in this case, the unwitting web hits of people who think they are responding to a legitimate ad. Even worse, he was contacted by someone purporting to be subletting his Sacramento apartment who asked Romos to wire him a substantial deposit before sending the key, a sketchy proposition to which Romos said no thanks.
He has been staying at the downtown youth hostel, but that is a limited solution, as it doesn’t allow stays of more than two weeks in a year.
Some variation on Moore’s and Romos’s predicaments are being played out all over the area, as low income workers scramble for a dwindling number of affordable rental properties, said Veronica Beaty, policy director for the Sacramento Housing Alliance.
Despite the staggering unmet need and dearth of resources, Beaty was optimistic about the potential to meet the need.
“Absolutely – there are solutions out there,” she said in a telephone interview last week.
Rental assistance, development of affordable housing and creativity in addressing unmet needs are potential puzzle pieces to solve the current crisis. All these things cost money – but so do the many problems that come with homelessness, including incarceration, emergency room care, and cleanup of homeless encampments.
“I would say we can’t afford not to do it,” Beaty said.
Problems from lack of affordable housing can ripple out in the community. It can make it harder for businesses to find and retain adequate staffing, Beaty said.
“Cities start to lose people who make cities work,” she said.
Although not everyone who is homeless is mentally ill or drug addicted, poverty and homelessness can have an adverse effect on both mental and physical health, which also imposes costs on society, Beaty said. That is, if someone wasn’t lower income or drug addicted before becoming homeless, hopelessness and despair over their situation could drive them in that direction.
People can be resourceful in coping with housing problems, ‘doubling up, crashing on friends’ couches,’ or other improvisations – but when the lack of affordable housing is systemic, the solution should be too. The alliance supports California Senate Bill 2 and Assembly Bill 71, which seek permanent funding sources for affordable housing at the state level, calling on local leaders to assist in the effort.
“We’re seeing an uptick in political will to get together to look at solutions,” Beaty said.