High rents, low vacancy rates and certain kinds of rent-control evictions have clearly correlated to the rise in homelessness experienced in Los Angeles County in the last few years.
Now a new report from real estate site Zillow says that if rents continue to rise at the pace recorded recently, nearly 2,000 Angelenos could end up on the streets within a year — a 31 percent increase from the latest figure. "While the connection between the rising cost of housing and homelessness is generally accepted, Zillow’s statistical analysis is the first to forecast for each city how many people will be pushed into homelessness as rents increase over time," according to a statement.
The site found that L.A. and New York — which could see nearly 3,000 new people on NYC's streets in a year — would create the most homelessness in the nation if rents increase by 5 percent in the next year. The latest Apartment List Los Angeles Rent Report recorded a 4.8 percent increase in rents compared with this time last year. "Rising rents in the nation’s hottest job markets are creating crisis levels of homelessness," according to Zillow.
Mike Alvidrez, CEO of L.A.'s Skid Row Housing Trust, says the projection is reasonable and that it's consistent with this year's Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) count of people on the streets, which found a 23 percent rise in homelessness compared with last year. The count found 57,794 people on the streets, and documented 8,044 Angelenos "experiencing homelessness for the first time."
"We're not going in the right direction," Alvidrez says. "There seems to be a new cohort of people joining the homeless ranks. Some of them are working but can't afford to pay rent in a market that doesn't give them options."
Indeed, according to Zillow, "The median rent payment in Los Angeles requires 49 percent of the typical household income, leaving little opportunity to save in case of an unexpected medical bill or loss of a job — events which could push a family into homelessness."
The site used one-night count data, like that reported in Los Angeles, but then expanded it based on statistical methods that assume there are more people out there than could possibly be seen in just a few counting sessions. The site estimates the total number of L.A. locals living on the streets next year could reach 61,398. Only New York, with 76,341 projected, was expected to have more. Both cities had the strongest statistical relationship between rising rents and greater numbers of people without shelter, Zillow senior economist Skylar Olsen says.
"We look at rising rents and how fast housing becomes unaffordable," she says. "Rent in L.A. is one of the fastest-growing in the United States. In L.A. you're fighting an uphill battle. It's about the shortage of supply of housing."
Washington, D.C., is projected to see 8,703 on the streets next year and Seattle could have 12,763. Both have emergency-level homeless problems and alarming expectations for the total number of people expected to be on the streets next year, according to the report. But those figures were nowhere near those of New York and Los Angeles.
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Alvidrez has been fighting homelessness for years, but he sounded dejected by the postrecession tragedy Los Angeles has experienced. "Our own kids can't find a place to live in the cities they were raised in," he says.
Those who end up on the streets also have much shorter life expectancy, he says. This crisis "is just killing people," Alvidrez says.