For 23 years Turlock resident Brent Ocken has called the two-bedroom duplex he rents on Pioneer Avenue home. Now, the 66-year-old is facing the very real possibility that he will have to move out and he’s worried his car may become his home.
Ocken is one of more than a million seniors throughout California feeling the brunt of the state’s housing shortage crisis. In 2018, California ranked 49th in the nation for housing units per resident. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found California has a housing shortage of around 2 million units and will need to build 3.5 million by 2025 to meet the growing population.
“It a real problem,” Ocken said. “Any place I find that I can afford, someone’s already beat me to it, or there’s a long wait list.”
Ocken, who is disabled, spent most of his working life in radio. It’s a medium he enjoys so much that he has continued his involvement in his retirement by volunteering with the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services as an amateur radio handler. He’s also an active member of the Turlock Amateur Radio Club and has turned the second bedroom in the duplex into a mini studio.
“Radio is something I have enjoyed doing and it was something I could do with my cerebral palsy,” Ocken said.
Ocken gets $951 a month in Social Security. For years, he paid $650 a month in rent, and while it took up the majority of his income, Ocken made it work through some careful budgeting.
That all changed when an oversea real estate investor purchased the property in April. In June, the rent was raised to $782. A few months later, Ocken was informed it would be raised again in December to $982.
“It would take everything I’ve got and I still wouldn’t have enough,” Ocken said.
The lack of affordable senior housing is an issue across the state and is only expected to worsen as the number of seniors rises. The California Department of Finance expects the number of state residents over the age of 65 years to grow by 2.1 million in the next six years. Seniors also make up the fastest growing population among the newly homeless and those living at or below the poverty level.
Just like the state, Turlock is experiencing an affordable housing shortage and it has hit seniors, low-income residents and college students particularly hard.
“The market has just gotten tighter and tighter and they are all vying for the same places,” said Maryn Pitt, the assistant to the City Manager for Economic Development and Housing in Turlock. “It has hit seniors in a terrible way.”
A 2018 report from the California Housing Partnership Corporation found that Stanislaus County’s lowest-income renters spend 58 percent of their income on rent.
A study completed earlier this year by the Concord Group, which is spearheading the phase II of Avena Bella, found that the problem is significant for the region, which includes the communities along Highway 99 — Turlock, Ceres, Modesto and Salida. The area included in the study found a population of 435,470 people and 140,288 households with a median household income of $57,427. Over the next four years the primary market area is expected to grow by 1,040 households each year.
“Given household growth, there will be considerable demand for more family affordable communities,” as stated in the study. “All surveyed affordable communities are effectively 100 percent occupied and long waits at communities that maintain open waitlists indicate a continued need of affordable family housing for existing households and projected new households.”
The long wait lists are something Ocken has run into multiple times in his search for a place to live, with some senior residences telling him it could be a year or longer wait for a unit.
“That doesn’t really help with the immediate need,” Ocken said.
To help curb the effects of the housing shortage, the CHPC report recommends Stanislaus County take the following measures:
• Streamline use of existing fee reductions and waivers and promote new fee reduction programs for affordable housing developments.
• Create zoning that promotes infill development and allows for alternative or non-traditional forms of housing, including ADUs and smaller housing units.
• Prioritize local housing waiting lists to assist people being displaced due to rising rents to the extent allowed by law.
• Prioritize public land for affordable housing wherever feasible.
• Adopt a policy that public lands will be conveyed through long-term ground leases that ensure long-term community control of these scarce resources rather than being sold.
• Promote, zone, and support use of different forms of residential construction - modular, prefab, and other factory-built alternatives.
• Master lease houses to nonprofits that commit to renting to households not traditionally served by subsidized housing.
• Adopt an ordinance to regulate rents for mobile home parks.
There has been some action at the state level to help with rising rents. In October, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 1482 by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) to establish a 5 percent annual rent cap, plus inflation, coupled with just-cause protections.
“About a third of California renters pay more than half of their income to rent and are one emergency away from losing their housing,” said Gov. Newsom. “One essential tool to combating this crisis is protecting renters from price-gouging and evictions. The bills signed into law today are among the strongest in the nation to protect tenants and support working families.”
Effective Jan. 1, 2020, AB 1482 caps rent increases statewide at 5 percent, plus local inflation per year but not exceed 10 percent for the next 10 years. Rents also may not be increased more than twice in a 12-month period and the total sum of the increases are not to exceed the annual rent cap. AB 1482 is retroactive to March 15, 2019.
Additionally, the state budget signed in June made a $1.75 Billion investment in new housing and provided $20 million for legal services for renters facing eviction as well as $1 billion to help cities and counties fight homelessness.
In addition to AB 1482, the Governor signed the following measures regarding rents:
· SB 329 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) prohibits landlords from discriminating against tenants who rely upon housing assistance paid directly to landlords, such as a Section 8 voucher, to help them pay rent.
· SB 222 by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) underscores that housing discrimination on account of military or veteran status is unlawful in California by explicitly stating so within the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). In addition, by defining a Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) voucher as a source of income for purposes of FEHA, the bill prohibits landlords from discriminating against a tenant on the basis that the tenant pays part or all of the rent using a VASH voucher.
· AB 1110 by Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale) requires landlords to give 90 days’ notice to a tenant before imposing rent increases of more than 10 percent.
· AB 1399 by Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) closes a loophole in the Ellis Act wherein landlords evict all the tenants from rent-stabilized units in a property, claiming they are leaving the rental market, when they have no plans for the property and are actually trying to raise rent in the stabilized units. The bill clarifies that once any unit is returned to the rental market, the entire property is considered back on the rental market.
· SB 644 by Senator Steven Glazer (D-Orinda) lowers the amount that a landlord can charge service members for a security deposit on residential rental housing.
· AB 1487 by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) establishes the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority, which will increase affordable housing by providing for enhanced funding and technical assistance at a regional level for new affordable housing production, affordable housing preservation, and tenant protection.
Ocken credits the signing of AB 1482 with allowing him to stay in his home at least through January, because the rent was rolled back to $845.
Ocken has applied for assistance, including Stanislaus County’s Housing Authority’s in-place voucher program, which helps residents already in a home remain there by helping with rent. Even if his application is fast-tracked, it might not be until February or March that Ocken gets an answer.
In the meantime, he remains hopeful that some option will come along.
“We just need more housing,” he said. “That’s all there is to it.”