High rents drive up homelessness

Mental health problems, addiction, childhood trauma, interaction with the criminal justice system and poverty all play significant roles in whether someone becomes homeless. But the primary reason? They can no longer afford rent.

About 1.3 million California renter households are considered “extremely low income,” making less than $25,000 a year, according to the California Housing Partnership, a nonprofit organization the state created to advise affordable housing builders. Predictably, these financially strapped households can barely afford the state’s escalating rents, and are most at risk of falling into homelessness.

Fueled by decades of underproduction, California’s stock of “naturally occurring” affordable housing is dwindling, as shoddy, older apartments that used to house lower-income families are increasingly taken by higher-income tenants.

Government-subsidized housing has not filled the gap. That’s partly because doing so would be insanely expensive. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that building new housing for every low-income Californian who needs it would cost $15 to $30 billion annually, That’s what the state currently spends on Medi-Cal, its massive program to provide health care to the poor, which covers a third of the state’s residents.