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I've covered California's housing crisis for years. Living it is a different story

Liam Dillon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

My move from Sacramento to Los Angeles began with acceptance. My rent was going to go up -- and it was going to go up a lot.

For close to four years, I've been writing for The Times about California's housing affordability problems. I've worked in the paper's bureau in Sacramento, focusing on government's response to rising home prices, rents and homelessness. I've chased lawmakers in a six-block radius around the state Capitol, and kept a close eye on the eye-popping stats about the cost of living.

But I've never lived it. Until now.

In October, I accepted a new assignment to write about housing affordability from a community rather than a government perspective -- a change that required moving to Los Angeles.

Even though I understood what it meant to move to one of the most expensive regions in the country, I hadn't yet felt what it was like to navigate a maze of rent control laws, choose between extra space or extra miles for a commute, or decide which landlord to trust in a market with just about everything in their favor.

Thousands of people do this every year, many of them with a lot fewer advantages than I've had. To be sure, while journalism isn't a lucrative profession, I could be certain that I was not going to join the 1.7 million renter households in California that spend half their income on housing. Or the many people I've interviewed who have taken shelter in unsafe warehouses or been pushed to the brink after seeing their rents double or even triple overnight. There's tremendous security and privilege in that.

 

But unless I decided to live more than an hour from my office at The Times' headquarters in El Segundo or squeeze into a couple hundred square feet -- a frequent calculation for those moving to L.A. -- I also knew much more of my pay was going to get sucked away every month. It left me with an anxiousness that I've heard many Californians explain, but had yet to confront myself.

That realization manifested itself as a sinking stomachache while talking with my L.A. friends about how much I should budget for a one-bedroom apartment.

"I'm thinking I could try to find something for around $2,000," I said over beers and pizza one night.

"Huh?" they responded. "You're probably going to spend closer to $2,500." That's more than double what I was paying.

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