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For Californina tenants on the edge, paying the rent often takes more than half their income

Andrew Khouri, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

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.

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