Scarce affordable housing in Orange County contributes to homelessness

In Local News, News, Top Stories
In the chart above, “length unknown” refers to an existing waitlist with an unspecified length, while “N/A” refers to no available waitlist information. A 2016 assessment of homeless services by the Orange County Executive Office recommended “increased development of affordable housing units and options.” (Cathryn Edwards / Daily Titan)

Thousands of homeless people need affordable rental housing in Orange County, but if they want a place in Fullerton, they’ll probably end up on a waiting list.

Fullerton has about 20 apartment complexes that offer roughly 1,100 affordable units, most of them for families, most with waiting lists. Four apartments have stopped taking names.

Las Palmas Apartments on Associated Road closed its list when it hit 50 names.

Orange County’s website has a link to a list of affordable housing units, but it may not be complete.

Families who would like to live in the Allen Hotel Apartments off south Harbor Boulevard face a six-year wait, the longest listed for Fullerton on the Orange County Community Services website.

Someone who is disabled or a senior citizen will have to wait four to five years to get a unit at Amerige Villa Apartments off west Amerige Drive.

The shortage is exacerbated by slow turnover.

When people get into an affordable senior apartment, they tend to stay there, said Imaida Gorelik, an Amerige Villa Apartments employee.

If they apply, they wait, she said.

Fullerton Mayor Bruce Whitaker is skeptical of the efforts to expand affordable housing but acknowledges the problem.

“I think it’s very important that people are able to find adequate living space without consuming their entire incomes,” Whitaker said.

“The government itself is part of the culprit of driving prices up,” he said.

Lack of studios and one-bedrooms

Most units available are for seniors and families, leaving many single people out of luck—and there are a lot of them in Orange County.

More than 2,000 single people who were reported sleeping unsheltered, according to the 2016 federal Continuum of Care (CoC) homeless report in Orange County. Another 800 were sleeping in emergency shelters.

One 48-year-old woman found herself homeless after her mother was put into a Fullerton nursing home. Without the ability to share living costs, the woman, who asked not to be identified, now lives in a tent along the east bank of the Santa Ana River in Anaheim.

She wants to find affordable housing but can’t on a fixed income of $800 a month.

She says the main reason many find themselves homeless is because the rent is so high.

“If the rent goes down, then we might be able to get it,” she said.

In Fullerton, Fullerton City Lights on Commonwealth Avenue is the only apartment complex on the county’s list that offers studios for non-disabled singles. The 116 units there have a one-month waiting list.

Paying the rent

Rent for each unit varies based on the area median income of the county.

A single income of $20,500 a year in Orange County is considered extremely low, according to a 2016 report from the state Department of Housing and Community Development.

Rent for someone in that category averages around $500 to $600 per month for a single bedroom, according to the Richman Park apartment project, proposed by Jamboree Corporation.

In 2016, the Orange County Executive Office released a biting assessment of homeless services in the county.

“The existing inventory of emergency shelter, transitional housing and permanent housing resources is insufficient to meet current needs in the county,” according to a report from the Executive Office. The report called for “increased development of affordable housing units and options.”

Fullerton Mayor Pro Tem Doug Chaffee voted against an affordable housing proposal at a city council meeting in February because he wants more units aimed at residents who have less income.

The median income for a four-person family in Orange County is $87,200, according to the HCD report.

On average, the homeless woman along the riverbed earns less than $10,000 a year. The affordable housing projects in Orange County are out of reach.

Two affordable housing projects may bring about 100 new units to Fullerton.

City council members recently approved the Fullerton Family Apartments proposal that adds 54 affordable family units. Six of those units are priced for extremely low incomes.

The council will revisit another proposal that was not approved in February, which would add an additional 45 units. Five of those units will be priced for extremely low incomes.

“So many of these projects claim that they’re bringing more supply onto the market and that supply will help to drive down pricing. We’re not seeing that, that really isn’t happening,” Whitaker said. “Most of those types of new developments, the pricing is coming in really at the moderately high or high end.”

Bailey Carpenter and Sarah Wolstoncroft contributed to this report.

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