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Housing wanted: The desperate search for an affordable apartment

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Southern California is often thought of as the land of the single family home: a home that’s owned, not rented, by its residents. This could be a modest tract house in the San Fernando Valley or a palatial designer residence perched on the sand in Newport Beach. But the image of Southern California as a kind of homeowners’ Shangri-La is something of a myth.

Just over half of the region’s population is composed of renters. And market forces and development trends are making things tougher for those who rent, or want to rent, in Southern California. Rents are at an all time high and keep going up, but renters’ salaries aren’t keeping up with the increases.

Craigslist has an overwhelming number of ads like these, featuring people desperate for affordable housing.
Craigslist has an dozens of ads like these, featuring people desperate for affordable housing.

There also a supply and demand problem, with too many people looking for too few available rental units. And even places that used to be an easy place to find affordable rentals, like the Inland Empire and some desert communities, aren’t anymore.

Below we profile two people we met through the “housing wanted” section of Craigslist, the online classifieds site. Both are in the midst of looking for an affordable place to rent in Southern California and are having a difficult time.

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Los Angeles County residents are now paying a monthly average of $1,716 for rent; in Orange County, it’s $1,663. In the next two years rents are expected to climb between 8 to 10% in the region. Average wages and salaries aren’t expected to keep up with the increase, meaning a greater percentage of people’s incomes will go to keeping roofs over their heads while they struggle to pay other bills. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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There’s an apartment building boom in some parts of Southern California, but many of the dwellings are too expensive for many. At One Santa Fe, a massive new apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles, a one bedroom, one bath apartment starts at $2,010 a month. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
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Many real estate watchers say one solution to the rental housing crunch is to build more units for every segment of the market. But, they say, multifamily dwellings often run into neighborhood opposition from single-family homeowners. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)