Low-income families forced to move into motels

The Associated Press
Monday October 23, 2000

LOS ANGELES — Southern California’s booming economy has pushed rents up so high that most apartments are far out of reach for lower-income families.  

And that’s contributing to a growing trend: entire families living – permanently or semi-permanently – in motels. 

“What’s different is that the people who are staying here are no longer the unemployed,” said Jim Parkin, owner of the Covered Wagon, a 70-unit motel in Anaheim that relies almost entirely on locals.  

“There’s no one here collecting cans.” 

The average apartment now goes for nearly $1,100 a month in Orange County and $838 in Los Angeles County.  

Rents are still climbing and the few new apartment projects under way are generally high-end. 

“We are reaching an unparalleled crisis in our housing,” Gary Squier, a consultant and former head of the Los Angeles Housing Department, told the Los Angeles Times. 

While there are no precise statistics on motel dwellers, motel owners in Anaheim, Long Beach and Van Nuys told the Times they’ve seen dramatic increases in the number of long-term motel residents. 

One such resident is 31-year-old Stephanie Hosey, who has lived since April at the Covered Wagon . 

Hosey earns little more than minimum wage answering phones at a nearby moving company and can’t afford an apartment in the area.  

All she can manage is a room in a roadside inn like the Covered Wagon, where she pays $161 a week. 

“If there wasn’t a place like this, I couldn’t stay in Anaheim,” Hosey said. 

In recent years income has soared for those in higher brackets.  

The more affluent have bid up home prices, locking out more of the middle class and, in turn, helping drive apartment rents to stratospheric levels. 

In few places are the working poor’s housing needs more acute than in Southern California, housing experts say. 

In Orange County, Southern California’s tightest housing market, monthly rent for a typical two-bedroom apartment has risen 26 percent over the last three years, according to Marcus & Millichap, a Palo Alto real estate brokerage. In Los Angeles County, rent for the same unit has jumped 20 percent. 

There are now four families for every low-income unit available in Southern California – the worst ratio in the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank.  

With land prices soaring, low-income homes have become difficult to build without government assistance, and housing needs far surpass available public resources. 

In the last decade, the population of the city of Los Angeles has grown by 300,000, but the total number of housing units has risen by only 31,000, according to city figures. More families are doubling or tripling up. 

Helen Dunlap heads Project Dignity, a Garden Grove group that aids motel families.  

She wishes more of the grants her organization gives would be used to pay for move-in costs. But they’re not, she says, because affordable apartments are so scarce.  

“There’s just nothing available.”