Renting in Sac: 'The Struggle is Real'

Posted on May 1, 2017

Are we headed the way of San Francisco?

Remember when affordability was considered one of Sacramento’s biggest selling points? That claim may be a thing of the past as rents in the capital city continue to climb and more and more residents find themselves unable to afford a place to live.

Apartment research firm Yardi Matrix reports that Sacramento was the only metropolitan area in the country to end 2016 with a double-digit rent increase. And the firm predicts rents will increase nearly 10 percent in 2017. The average rent in Sacramento is $1,275, according to the firm.

Jill Griffin knows the pitfalls of the current rental market all too well. A single mother of four who works part time for a delivery company, Griffin has been unable to find an affordable apartment for her family. She is living temporarily with a friend in Elk Grove while she searches for a permanent dwelling.

“I don’t think there’s nearly enough housing. I’ve called over 100 different apartment complexes on affordable or subsidized lists, only to be told that they have waiting lists of anywhere from six months to five years,” says Griffin. “The struggle is real. I’m actually at the point where I’m looking into homeless programs because there’s nothing I can afford. I can’t tell you how many nights I just sit here and cry.”

Griffin is not alone, according to Veronica Beaty, land use policy director for Sacramento Housing Alliance.

“We’re hearing a lot of those stories from folks all across the economic spectrum. We’re hearing from people on the streets who’ve gotten housing choice vouchers [a federal assistance program for very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled] and can’t find a place to use them,” says Beaty. “We’re hearing from folks who’ve lived in the downtown and midtown areas for years and are seeing rent increases that are forcing them to move out of their homes. And we’re hearing from young professionals who are just trying to live near their work or internship and are seeing studios going for $1,000 a month. Income levels in Sacramento just don’t support market rents.”

Several factors are forcing rents upward. For starters, explains Beaty, more than half of the public funds used to construct affordable housing dried up when redevelopment agencies were dissolved during the state’s budget crisis. An influx of Bay Area residents is also putting substantial pressure on the rental market. “Their willingness to pay higher rents is crowding out our residents,” says Beaty. And there simply isn’t enough new housing being built in the region to meet demand.

Yardi Matrix reports that the Sacramento area added just 852 units to its rental supply in 2016, while another 1,700 units are underway. For many families, it’s too little too late. “We know that at the county level there are 59,000 affordable homes needed. That’s based on census data on how many people are housing-cost burdened—in other words, paying too much for their housing,” says Beaty.

Some fear that Sacramento could go the way of San Francisco, where the professionals who keep a cit y functioning—police, nurses, teachers— can’t afford a place to live. “We’re not quite there yet in Sacramento, but we need to make sure we don’t get there,” says Beaty.

Meanwhile, Beaty’s organization is focused on finding a local revenue source for building more affordable housing. She also says it’s important that new developments, like the downtown Railyards, offer a range of housing products, not just high-end condos.

For Griffin, the fixes can’t come quickly enough. “It needs to be more affordable for everyone. I really think we need more programs here in Sacramento, not just for the homeless but for people like me who are on the brink,” she says. “It’s a very difficult struggle. We need to do something about it.”

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