California’s Low-Income Seniors Severely Rent-Burdened, Study Finds

LOS ANGELES (CN) – As the affordable housing crisis continues to grip residents across California, a new study found that most low-income seniors in the state shoulder insurmountable housing costs.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles published a study Tuesday that found rent to be a financial burden to more than three-quarters of California’s low-income seniors.

More than half a million low-income seniors rent in California, according to the study, with many living in the same rental unit for years. Leaving their homes because of housing costs could mean severing social and medical support networks.

Many could end up in substandard housing – or even homeless, according to the study’s authors.

“Older Californians with limited incomes struggle to pay for shelter, food, medical care and other basic necessities,” study co-author D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto said in a statement. “Escalating rent prices can push them out the door. If they’re lucky, they can land at a relative or friend’s home.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines housing costs that are over 30 percent of the pretax family income as a burden, and costs of over 50 percent as a severe burden.

According to the study, 55.8 percent of low-income seniors in California shoulder a severe rent burden and 22.6 percent are moderately burdened.

The study found 4.2 million California seniors living in their own homes and not under constant medical supervision.

“This group is the most vulnerable to rising rental costs, since they have little or no flexibility in their budgets,” researchers said in a summary of their findings.

James Don of the Los Angeles Department of Aging told Courthouse News that the city’s senior programs don’t include rental assistance, but they do provide transportation support and at least one hot meal per day.

“With so many facing [an] extreme housing burden, there is no flexibility when faced with unexpected costs,” Don said. “Seniors on fixed incomes often can’t pay unexpected bills and must decide which to skip – either to eat, pay for prescription medication, utility bills, or rent.”

Don said eligible seniors may apply for the city’s Lifeline Rate housing program and Section 8 vouchers.

The high-priced Bay Area region has a marginally lower overall rent burden than the rest of the state – about 1 percent less – because some long-term tenants in the area live in rent-controlled units, according to the study.

Sacramento-area counties have the highest proportion of severely rent-burdened low-income seniors at 63.7 percent.

“In California, we have a rapidly aging population,” lead author of the study Steven P. Wallace said in a statement. “The gap between many older adults’ fixed incomes and increasing rents is likely to widen to a chasm unless changes occur in rental costs, incomes or both.”

California renters of all ages feel the pinch, although not quite as disproportionately as the elderly – 28.7 percent of all renters bear a severe rent burden, according to a recent state housing report.

Fifty-five percent of LA County residents said they, a close friend or family member have considered moving in the last few years due to rising housing costs, according to the University of California, Los Angeles 2018 Quality of Life Index.

Despite a robust economy, the state’s housing supply is nearly 4 million units short.

With almost 20 percent of Californians living near the poverty line – the highest in the nation – rising housing costs represent the largest burden for many families and individuals, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Housing advocates are looking ahead to the November election for potential relief in the form of a statewide rent control ballot measure called the Affordable Housing Act. The initiative attempts to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, a state bill that limits California cities’ power to enact rent control. But that won’t directly address the widening gap in availability of affordable housing stock.

In a statement opposing the Affordable Housing Act, the California Association of Realtors said it “understands that, however well-intentioned, rent control is nothing more than a thinly-veiled version of government-mandated price control that doesn’t work.”

Seventy-one percent of LA county residents – both renters and homeowners – who responded to the 2018 Quality of Life Index said they favor rent stabilization legislation that would cap annual rent increases on all rental housing.

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