Three-times the minimum wage is needed to afford rent in Santa Cruz County – KION546

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) A new housing report is highlighting just how much the increasing cost of living is pricing low-income families out of the Monterey Bay area.

The report, put together by the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, found that in order to afford average rent in Santa Cruz County, renters need to make $48.08 per hour. That’s more than three-times the state minimum wage.

“We just haven’t been producing the variety and amount of units that we need to house the folks that are in our community, across all income levels, for decades now,” said Alyssa Kroeger, the Housing Program Manager for the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership.

With the lack of units available, the average rent in Santa Cruz County is now $2,500 per month, an increase of 15% between 2020 and 2021. But according to the report, state and federal funding for housing production in the county has actually decreased 48 % since the previous year, now at $19 million.

The story isn’t much better across the rest of the Central Coast. The report also found that renters need to earn $27.77 per hour to afford average rent in San Benito County, and $36.50 per hour in Monterey County.

“Even if you have above moderate income, there’s just not a lot of options out there. Especially for folks who are lower income,” Kroeger said. “Especially essential workers. Lower income staff across the region are often having to relocate regularly to find affordable housing as rent continues to go up.”

Josephine Birmingham works at the McDonald’s across from Window on the Bay Park in Monterey.

“I live in a shelter. I’m working on saving my money, to actually be able to get a place, or get an apartment,” said Birmingham.

But it’s not just rent. Gas is also at a record high, and a new government report shows grocery store prices jumped nearly 11% over the past year, the largest 12 month increase since 1980.

“You really need a roof over your head before you can worry about, you know, what job you’re going to find, what healthcare you’re able to get, what school you’re going to be able to put your kids through So it’s just the foundation of every other success that we’re able to find in life,” Kroeger said.

There are affordable housing projects in the works across all three counties. Just this month, 400 affordable units will be breaking ground in Santa Cruz County. You can find more information on those projects here.

“In Monterey County, there’s a growing effort around employer sponsored housing,” Kroeger said. “We have a really large hospitality industry and many agricultural workers in the county and they’re struggling to get by. They’re struggling to find housing. They’re having to hold more than one job at a time in order to just make ends meet. So workforce housing is a really great way that Monterey County can move forward in addressing our housing affordability crisis.”

You can find more information about the projects in the works for agriculture and education here.

Construction on a mixed-use housing project in downtown Hollister called “The Epicenter” is also underway.

“So in the coming year, we’ll have a really beautiful mixed-use project as an example for San Benito County in downtown Hollister, right in the heart of where a lot of folks live, work and study,” added Kroeger.

But the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership says that in order to meet demand, more than 33,000 additional units will be needed across the region by 2030.

“Right now we’re at the beginning of our 6th Cycle Housing Element process, which is a once in a decade opportunity for all of us to get involved with our cities and counties planning process to identify what kind of housing we need for the community And how we start figuring out where are suitable sites to build this housing so that we can catch up to the demand that we really need, Kroeger said.

The Monterey Bay Economic Partnership is holding workshops during May, which is also affordable housing month. You can find more information on how and when you can participate here.

For those in need of affordable housing now, Kroeger says the best place to start is by calling 2-1-1 or reaching out to your local United Way.

“Whether it’s getting on a wait list for a housing choice voucher, or getting added to a wait list for project based Section 8 housing and simply just figuring out what projects are in the works,” said Kroeger. “There’s a lot of different options out there, and the United Way here in Monterey County is a great way to get the ball rolling on those processes.”

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