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Hundreds remain, more expected on San Clemente affordable housing wait lists
By Eric Heinz
Courtney Davies, a student at Saddleback College and receptionist and hair stylist hopeful at Salon Bleu, said she has been on a waiting list for affordable housing in San Clemente for nearly three years for one location and 18 months for another.
The single mother, who doesn’t want to relocate because she said her child enjoys her current local elementary school, lives with four other adults and four children in a four-bedroom home in Rancho San Clemente.
Davies said because the home is to be sold and the tenants have to be out by the end of July, she’s hoping she can find a place to live in town—preferably something comparable to the $1,000 per month rent she’s paying at her current residence.
Davies said she was on a list for Irvine affordable housing for four to five years but decided the commute wouldn’t be worth it.
“I’m trying really hard not to move my daughter because she loves it at her school,” she said.
Davies’ roommate, Amber Ringstad, said they’re paying about $4,000 altogether in monthly rent.
“Our situation is we’re three single moms sharing a house right now, sharing the rent three to four ways,” Ringstad said.
The children are between 6 and 12 years old.
“We’ve got to move, and the rent has gone up so much in just the last year,” said Ringstad, who has lived in San Clemente for the last seven years. “I don’t think sharing a room with my 10-year-old son would be ideal.”
Ringstad said she’s been looking all over for alternative solutions to housing and said she has the option to live with family in Tustin while she and her son figure things out in the interim.
“Three years ago I did have a two-bedroom place for my son and I for $1,400 a month,” she said. “You cannot find that now; it is impossible.”
Affordable housing in San Clemente and waiting list times according to Orange County Community Services:
Casa de Seniors: 72 units, two to three years
Escalones Nuevos: six units, one year
Henderson Houses Shared Housing: six units, four to six weeks (60-day maximum stay)
Avenida Serra: 19 units, one to three years (based on projected numbers)
Mendocino Apartments in Talega: 185 units, anywhere from six months to four years, depending on income
Mary Erickson Community Housing: 12 units, one year
Vintage Shores: 122 units, first come, first served
All the affordable and senior housing complexes in San Clemente are either at or just barely under 100 percent occupancy, Denise Obrero, San Clemente Housing & Social Services Planner, said.
The long-awaited Avenida Serra location is nearing completion, expected to be done in October.
The waiting list for the Serra project’s 19 units will open in about two weeks. National Community Renaissance will manage the Avenida Serra site with an on-location manager.
Although the complex does not have actual data available yet, Obrero said she estimates, based on call volume, there will be at least 800 people on a wait list for the 19 units that will be available.
“Orange County is built out, meaning there’s no more land,” Obrero said. “Basically you have to do these infill projects.”
The city is trying to locate more existing buildings that can be converted to affordable housing. The process does not move fast, as the Avenida Serra location was first conceived in 1998 but didn’t get substantial funding until about 2010.
“The average commute in San Clemente is between 30 and 50 miles,” Obrero said. “We have people who may work in San Diego or in Riverside, San Bernardino—you go where the job is.”
According to “Out of Reach 2015,” a study by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, residents need to earn $30.92 an hour to afford rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment in Orange County.
“The typical fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit here is $1,608 per month while the nationwide average was $1,124 a month, ranking O.C. among the nation’s 10 most expensive counties for renters (behind New York, San Francisco, Boston and San Jose Silicon Valley),” the report stated.
Whether employees of a certain income bracket would be able to make up that difference would depend on the average wages of a specific city and its industries, but based on minimum wage, a person living here would have to work three jobs full time.
“I think a lot of people just don’t know how affordable housing works, so there is a big education part to it,” Obrero said. “This is going to be part of the fabric of the downtown area.”
City Planner Jim Pechous said other funding sources also have not been available in recent years for affordable housing.
“It’s not a for-profit business, so the funding is really hard to come by,” he said, adding the housing in lieu of taxation fees have also all but dwindled.
“We have a variety of potential sites where affordable housing could happen, but the bottom line is that the real strong funding mechanisms aren’t there,” Pechous said.
Cotton’s Point Senior Apartments, developed as affordable living for people 55 and older, was further along than the Serra location when the funding for redevelopment basically stopped. Other sources from the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development are available, but the different organizations managing the sites have to apply through a need-based system.
State regulations require cities to provide affordable housing with prescribed amounts of housing development based on population. The housing can be for homeless, destitute and other criteria applicable to California Housing and Community Development.
“More than 400 redevelopment agencies ceased to exist after Feb. 1, 2012,” Obrero wrote in an email. “Redevelopment agencies (like National CORE), which used a portion of property tax money to partner with developers to encourage development in blighted areas, controlled about $5 billion a year in tax revenue.”
Obrero said the city used to get about $700,000 to $800,000 in redevelopment state funding for affordable housing programs until that was cut. The $7.3 million needed for Serra is a financial patchwork of grants, city funding and loans.
The building is going to be marked for affordable housing for at least 55 years, Obrero said, and each site manager has its own rules and regulations for qualifying for a unit. Income, credit history, criminal background and references are just a few of the processes.
The Serra site will take until about September to sift through, Obrero said.
These developments are far from government projects in which fixed incomes are provided through either welfare or social security.
The Medocino location in Talega is an example of expensive construction costs. The complex, with one- to three-bedroom units and $585 to $1,400 per month rents, cost more than $30 million to build.
Another hurdle has been public transportation, which Orange County Transit Authority cut from the Talega location after it was dealt its own budget cuts.
Obrero said available land for the municipality to develop affordable housing is scarce. The materials required to meet the city’s Spanish Colonial Revival standards aren’t cheap, and when funding was cut from programs from the state a few years ago it pushed these projects further back.
Even at the rate they’re going, most of San Clemente’s affordable housing units don’t meet the threshold of one-third of annual income. At $9 an hour (California minimum wage), rent would have to be $432, but the cheapest apartment at Medocino is about $550. The requirements to move into affordable housing in most of the apartments is to have twice the wages of the monthly rent. A one-bedroom apartment typically goes for $900 or higher.
There’s also a local retention factor in all this, in that recent college or high school graduates looking for employment may not be able to stay in San Clemente because the housing is unaffordable to the rate of their job. This, Obrero said, is something her office and counterparts have noticed with interns.
“There’s just not enough,” Obrero said. “It’s a huge community concern.”