One reason rents have risen steadily in California is a lack of apartment construction relative to job and population growth. And even though low-wage work has exploded in many corners of the state, California has added many well-paying jobs as well. Those workers bid up prices, particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California.
Those who are less well-off have to make tough decisions: move to a cheaper area or cut back on cellphone services, restaurant outings and other, more necessary items.
Michael Flood, president of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, said he usually sees a sharp decline in households looking for help as the economy improves. But this time around it's been only a slight decrease -- something he attributes chiefly to rising housing costs.
"We are hearing more and more people say, 'I am working ... but the rents are just killing me,'" Flood said.
Concepcion, a 40-year-old mother of three who requested only her first name be used because she fears deportation, entered the U.S. illegally as a teenager. She said it's hard getting by with a rent and utility payment that comes to about 40 percent of what her husband earns each month at three jobs.
She said it's been hard to find better-paying work because she and her husband are here illegally. She lost a hospital job a few years back because of her immigration status.
So when it comes time to pay the $820 monthly rent for their Santa Ana apartment, the stay-at-home mom and part-time nursing student said she sometimes has only $10 to cover two days of food for herself and three kids.
Her husband isn't home for dinner. She said he leaves at 4:30 a.m. and is sometimes back as late as 2 a.m. the next day, working as a landscaper and at two restaurants.
"Most of the times I feel like a single mother," Concepcion said. "Everywhere I go, I am alone with my kids. They say, 'Why is he never here? Why does he work so much?' Even though I try to explain to them the reasons why he is not there, they just don't get it."
For many, finances simply can't stretch any further. A study this year from real estate website Zillow found 2,000 more L.A. County residents would be pushed into homelessness by a 5 percent rent hike.