The Silent Victims of Unaffordable Housing

The shelter-in-place mandates introduced during the pandemic have strained many individuals who find themselves with a lot less personal space at home than they enjoyed before Covid. As a result, we have seen a disturbing increase in domestic violence, so much so that some local domestic violence shelters have had to turn people away for lack of space. However, this is not a new story for many Bay Area families; we have seen this phenomenon for years caused by another culprit: Bay Area housing prices. We have heard the painful accounts of those forced to stay with abusive partners and divorcees forced to live with their exes because they cannot afford to rent or buy another residence.

One demographic that has been particularly affected by the high rents is young adults, often nicknamed the “Boomerang Generation” because of the large percentage of them who have returned home to live with parents. This arrangement can be beneficial, with children saving on rent while also contributing to the family’s finances. In healthy families, parents continue to foster independence in their adult children, respecting their privacy and choices. Parents that do not respect boundaries, on the other hand, can psychologically cripple their children for years to come.

Helicopter parents may not stop their controlling ways when adult children move home. Early-career adult children suddenly find themselves with a lot more freedom and many more choices to make, particularly regarding their future careers and family. For example, they may need to try various jobs before finding their fit. They may need to meet a lot of the “wrong” type of guy or girl before they meet the “right” one. Trial-and-error is necessary and healthy. Living at home means that parents will be privy to their children’s choices, and the overprotective ones will nag, maybe harass, and even physically assault their children into choosing what they think is best. Children in such situations become demoralized, lose self-confidence, and harbor long-term resentment against their parents. They are also victims of a type of domestic violence for which there is no shelter.

Bay Area home prices have imprisoned many within the same walls as their abusers. Even though the cost of a San Francisco studio has dropped to $1,895 during the pandemic, that is still too much for many young adults who barely make above minimum wage. And for those who have no recourse but to return home to controlling parents, the only solution is to find a way to set clear boundaries (which is often easier said than done) or stand to suffer. It is a sad situation. Every individual should have the right to get out of harm’s way.

Why we want to build truly affordable housing

It is well known that San Francisco’s housing prices are consistently higher than those of other cities across the United States. There are many reasons for this phenomenon. Many well-known technology companies and high-tech talent converge here. However, people with low-income can’t afford the high rental rates.

Let’s first take a brief look at the current state of San Francisco rentals. We have to admit that the overall rental prices in San Francisco have dropped this year because of the pandemic. According to the statistics, the price of studio has dropped from $2,596 last year to $1,895, down 27%, and the price of one-bedroom has also dropped to $2,600, down 25% compared to last year.

The above is the current situation of rental prices in San Francisco. Due to the impact of the pandemic, many companies are working from home. Many people are starting to move out of the Bay Area to cheaper places to live. However, are these rental prices acceptable for people who cannot move further away?

I think it is not. For someone making $15 an hour, rent at $1,895 takes up 78% of his salary. The rest of the money is also not enough to support his other expenses for a month. Even though the price of renting in San Francisco has decreased significantly compared to last year, it is still unaffordable for people earning lower income.

This also shows the need for truly affordable housing, not housing for which people spend more than half their income. We expect the rent for an affordable home to be nore more than $780 per month per household earning $15 an hour. This rate is extremely below the current rent rates in San Francisco.

Currently, our country is facing one of the worst affordable housing crises in its history. Without a doubt, those living in poverty are the most severely impacted.

Care Association Helps Family Secure a Home

In spite of the challenges of 2020, in the middle of lockdown this spring we succeeded in helping a single mom and her young son rent a home. Thanks to the support of donors who gave just after the holidays of 2019, we were able to provide the Black family with the security deposit needed for the family to move in. Though the rent is still too high for Ms. Black to work a single full-time job (she has two jobs), the rate was a little lower than it was a year before.

Still, a Lack of Affordable Housing

Sadly, rent rates are not coming down fast enough, and though many households have been moving and taking advantage of lower rents, other households are still unable to afford the lowest rents of the San Francisco Bay Area, relying on the kindness of friends and neighbors to house them in rooms.

Construction costs are even worse, and they keep the prices of housing high. While other parts of the country are able to build homes at $150 a square foot, even with increased costs for materials, general contractors in counties of the Bay Area quote estimates at $1,500 per square foot. How can it cost 10 times more? Part of the problem is that contractors must pay their workers fair wages in order to afford living in the homes they build. It’s a chicken and egg problem.

Our Next Step

Plans are brewing for making truly affordable housing in the Bay Area—and the rest of the country—a reality. But to make this happen, we need funds. More on this to come.

To California’s Public Officials Re: Affordable Housing

Dear California Public Officials,

I am writing to encourage you to promote opening up more locations in the state where Tiny Homes are approved. I am an active senior/still-working artist in Oakland who is going to need a new place to live in the near future. I am currently living in the house of a wonderful, elderly landlady, who may decide/need to move to easier housing at any time. To be honest, after this space is no longer available, there is no way I could afford to stay in my neighborhood and keep all the resources that I have come to know. I have applied to several subsidized senior apartments, but know that actually getting a place can require a long wait, if they manifest at all.

I could afford to acquire a simple live-in studio on wheels, or a trailer, but do not know where I would be able to park. Especially with the amount of homelessness and now complications from COVID-19, I don’t understand why Tiny Homes are not seen as a potential solution for so many people who are struggling and suffering.

I know the limitations for ADU’s are opening up, but this does not help the person who does not own the property, as they are mostly required to have a foundation, rather than be on a trailer.

Please do what you can in this regard, and let me know who I should speak to locally in the Oakland/Berkeley area. Thank you for all you are doing to keep California safe during this tragic time.

Sincerely,
Judith Schonebaum
Oakland, California

Care Association Plans to Build

Since deciding to change our focus from tech to real property, we have become extremely busy. Our organization has grown in less than a year from two active volunteers to 11. And we continue to grow.

Affordable Housing in the San Francisco Bay Area

In November 2018, Sonoma County enabled an innovative provision allowing the construction of multiple cottages on lots zoned for single-family houses. After much research, we decided to pursue building 16 tiny houses on foundations ranging from 300 square feet to 800 square feet each. Some houses will be single story. Some will have lofts for extra space. All will be manageable and affordable.

Sonoma County has taken an important step for making affordable housing viable. The cost to build an “affordable” unit in San Francisco is estimated at more than $600,000. The smallest “affordable” SF apartment tends to be around 450 square feet. In the meantime, people are living in RVs and cars. But the Cottage Housing Development provision takes into account that very few people are able to take advantage of conventional affordable units. The provision allows for the construction of tiny houses as homes. They may be small, but they’re bigger than vans. And they cost much less than $600,000 — 85% less.

Truly Affordable Homes

To add insult to injury, the rent rate of San Francisco’s so-called affordable units is still unaffordable for a minimum-wage worker. And they are allowing people to pay 50% of their incomes for these units. But our plans will enable someone making $11 an hour to live comfortably on no more than 30% of their income.

Our goal is to build in Petaluma where there is a SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) station that enables people to reach San Francisco without a car. The cottage provision can be used anywhere in the county where there is access to city services including sewage treatment.

Help Us Reach Our Goal

By the end of 2020 we hope to complete construction of 16 houses in Sonoma County for up to 41 people. And then we want to build more. But to begin, we need to raise $850,000. To achieve this, we need all the help we can get. How can you help?

  • Share this story
  • Donate
  • Volunteer

For more actionable ideas visit Ways to Help.

If you live in Sonoma County and want to help, send us a message on our Contact Form.

How to spot a fake Craigslist rental ad

Fake ad

A very common trick scammers use is to copy a legitimate ad and lower the price to lure unsuspecting victims. Especially in the San Francisco Bay Area where high rents is a major issue, it takes perseverance to find a home in the area. Unfortunately, there are scammers taking advantage of innocent people looking for a roof over their heads. Thus, you always need diligence especially if it involves large sums of money.

Here are some ways to spot fake Craigslist rental ads.

They refuse to meet you in person

One of the biggest signs of a scam is the seller refuses to directly meet you for some odd reason. Whether it’s because they’re out of the country, vacation, or elsewhere, if you can’t meet in person, it’s a red flag.

Photos look better than other listings

Photos are very important in regard to housing. What is tricky is if the photos are legitimate or not. Often scammers will download photos from the internet posing as legitimate photos. Luckily there are ways to counter this scam tactic. The first method is to Google search the images or see if it contains any watermarks. Second, check for the small inconsistencies in the ad especially in regards to the photos.

How to verify photos through Google Images

1. For most browsers, simply right-click on an image in the Craigslist ad and choose “Copy image address.”

2. Open images.google.com and click the camera icon. Mousing over the icon, it says “Search by image.” Paste the address you copied from step 2.

3. Look at two part of the Google image results page that says “visually similar images” and  “Pages that include matching images.”

4. If the image matches any of the results, it’s with high certainty that it could be a stolen image. If the image from the other source comes from a webpage advertising a higher cost, then the ad is a scam.

Back to the list…

Asking to wire money

When you are asked to pay through a third party like Western Union, MoneyGram, etc, rather than cash/check, it’s a red flag, especially if they ask for money before you even see the property yourself. Scammers are trying to avoid dealing with you directly. Also, to cover their tracks as well.

Suspicious sense of urgency

Ads or listings that create a false sense of urgency. What I mean is essentially anything that forces you to make an irrational decision without giving yourself the time to think things through is a scam. If they say you have to make a decision today to buy it or lose it forever or anything like that, it’s a red flag. For anything involving houses, it’s ultimately a research game, not an emotional one.

Too Good to be true

If the deal is too good to be true, it’s a red flag. Why such a low price in an area where the rent is a lot more? Note that the ad above includes “cats are OK,” “dogs are OK,” and “attached garage” among other amenities.

Sob stories

If a listing has a sob story, it’s most likely a scam. Serious lessors are unlikely to mention their personal problems in a listing. If they do include a sob story, they may be scammers trying to bait you with emotions to trick you in giving your hard-earned cash away.

Typos and grammar errors

Typos and grammar errors are common among all types of scams. Fake listings are no exceptions. Scammers for some reason or another do not take the time to ensure their fake listings are typo-and grammar-error-free.

Lack of information

Scams may give a lack of very important information. If it’s just a paragraph of scant info, it’s potentially a scam. However, scams could give lots of important information in which you need to rely on other signals to tell if it’s a scam or not.

Conclusion

Protect yourself from fraud, especially from the internet. Even with the efforts of moderators, there is no excuse for not being diligent in looking for a place to live.

Sources

https://www.foxnews.com/real-estate/how-legit-is-that-listing-five-signs-its-a-fake

https://support.trulia.com/hc/en-us/articles/206731187-Rental-Listing-Scams-Read-Before-You-Search

https://realestate.usnews.com/real-estate/articles/8-red-flags-to-help-you-spot-a-rental-scam

https://www.consumerreports.org/consumerist/5-warning-signs-that-a-craigslist-rental-listing-is-probably-a-scam/

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams

https://www.zillow.com/info/beware-of-scams-and-other-internet-fraud/

Will Lowering Rent Save The Economic Crisis?

Right now, rents around the country are elevating at a unstoppable pace. The ongoing battle between supply and demand is agonizing the economic upheaval. Now that employment, wages, and population are increasing landlords and property owners believe it is acceptable to uncontrollably raise rent prices. It may be the case, however, with speculative rent policies, and high perception of gentrification discriminating lower income residents to affluent municipalities makes this process intangible for equality. One side is getting the favor while the other is grappling to survive the consequences. It is indefinitely hurting the crisis and bringing injustice to existence within laws of the housing market.

Why Property Owners Require Rent

Most people may believe that rent is the occurrence to satisfy the landlord or property owner. It is, but it also reflects back to help the landlord contribute to the promises committed on the rental agreement for maintenance, mortgage, and paying “property taxes to the government” (Eberlin, 2018). These rules apply even if the landlord doesn’t live on site but is acquainted by the property owner. Does this mean they should charge higher prices? Yes, but only to limited cities that can afford it without hassle. Without a doubt this is highly obtainable for property owners to utilize, but the effect it is has on long-term renters could be devastating to survive random rent inflation without explanation. Economists and other researchers have noticed a change in rent prices during certain times of the year for long-term and short-term due to “landlords risking foreclosure” (Landes, 2012). In general, this is true because of how vacations are timed and planned throughout the year for all people.

Source: http://www.city-data.com/blog/6239-airbnb-year-round/

Jerry X, a economy entrepreneur for AirBnb, drastically proves this by explaining how short-term prices and occupancy constantly “fluctuate throughout the year due to demand shifts.” Meaning, if the landlord needs more funds once school session starts to maintain the building units, prices will increase, and short-term rent availability will dwindle. It’s as if this is one of the main reasons why most communities enable uptight rent laws due to short-term renters harming “property value by not maintaining their house as well as homeowners” (Pindell, 2009,  p.72).

Does Increasing Housing Rates Help or Hurt The Economy?

Source: https://iwpr.org/publications/gender-wage-gap-occupation-2017-race-ethnicity/

Throughout the rental crisis, most of the economists have agreed that the increase of housing rates is what is causing most of the affordability hardships among many citizens. This is true because of the structure of employment income being stereotyped, and renting laws not being monitored so they could target low-income families. Not only renters but also “preventing workers from moving to areas with growing job opportunities.” (Been, Ellen, O’Regan, 2017, pg.1). An example could be the rate of construction jobs being added to the economy. Yet, with housing and rental policies being subjective it automatically qualifies wealthier cities to have higher quality than deprived ones. As a result, more houses are being built while the wealthy get richer and the poor struggle more to make ends meet with little to no income support. Does this mean they should lower prices? Yes, to some extent. There needs to be a balance with supply and demand towards employment and homeownership. However, unparalleled housing properties and stagnant interest rates make this process harder to accomplish without segregation being present in municipalities.

What’s Holding Back Bringing Rates Down From Landlords?

Overall, the economic crisis would be a time for lowering rent, but not from the landlord’s perspective. Many of them believe that once the prices dwindle, they would lose on competitiveness, and welcoming lower income residents. This may be true, however, it may attract a negative belief of gentrification to prevent diversity populating in high-class cities. Should landlords consider this a reason to lower it? It depends on many factors among tenants, rent policies, and the economy. Some researchers consider raising prices economic growth due to higher consumer spending in GDP, but unaware of how this unequal trend caused a traumatic effect in segregation within the housing market.

References

Been, V., Ellen, I. G., & O’Regan, K. (2017). Supply Skepticism: Housing Supply and Affordability. Housing Policy Debate, 1-22. doi:10.1080/10511482.2018.1476899

Eberlin, E. (2018, November 21). 7 Safety and Maintenance Responsibilities of a Landlord. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancesmb.com/landlord-rental-property-responsibilities-2124989

Hegewish, Arianne, et al. “The Gender Wage Gap by Occupation 2017 and by Race and Ethnicity.” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 9, Apr. 2018, iwpr.org/publications/gender-wage-gap-occupation-2017-race-ethnicity/.

Landes, L. (2012, August 07). Earning a Living With Rental Properties: Should You Be a Landlord? Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/moneybuilder/2012/08/06/earning-a-living-with-rental-properties-should-you-be-a-landlord/

Pindell, N. (2009). Home Sweet Home? The Efficacy of Rental Restrictions to Promote Neighborhood Stability, 29, 42-84. Retrieved March 5, 2019.

* Tables were used from citydata.com and iwpr.gov.

Changing Our Strategy

We set out with a grand vision of helping thousands of people find homes. But there was a grand barrier: our plan didn’t appeal enough to those who needed the help. We had launched an effort to find participants for a demonstration version of the Care For Us site. Should be easy, right? It wasn’t. While people found the concept “interesting,” it wasn’t enough to get them to sign up. Out of a dozen people we invited, only one person signed up. The people we asked were sober, had income, and could not be picked out of a crowd behaving as an outlier. Some had non-vehicular roofs over their heads; some didn’t.

We didn’t ask their reasons for not joining, though one person declined after reading our waiver which stated that this program had no guarantees and that participants were responsible for the information they share on the site.

We are Learning

Learning from this failure, we decided to pursue affordable housing in a more practical manner: build housing. We still believe that connecting people to vacant units is possible, but the approach needs to be different. Since building a web platform and building housing both take time, we weighed their differences and decided that providing places to live — with consideration of my architectural design study in Scandinavia — is the direction that is wiser and more likely to be effective.

Focused on Outcomes

At the same time, we want to produce outcomes. So far, Care Association has provided individuals and charities with goods, and we have supported individuals’ mental health assisting them in emotional regulation. While providing goods is intended through the still-planned Care For Us website, mental health support requires one-on-one contact. To provide this support, we are currently exploring ways to expand our reach.

These changes require more manpower, which seem to be timely since the number of volunteers on our roster increased from zero in May 2018 to twelve as of this month, including five who are currently active. We hope that by June we will have a volunteer taking over Executive Director duties to help us grow.

Slow and Steady

Building Care Association is like construction. It’s taking longer than expected. In spite of the setbacks, we are still hopeful and remain focused on our vision of affordable housing for all.

It’s too soon to share the details of our plan to create positive outcomes. I will say this: history has a lot to teach us, and we are applying those lessons to our approach.

Join our mailing list to be updated on our progress.

Newsletter 2019

May 14, 2019

Dear Supporters,

This long-overdue update on Care Association comes after many rainy days in San Francisco, and I don’t just mean precipitation. Other nonprofit directors weren’t joking when they advised me how long it can take to get a project off the ground.  Unfortunately, our web project has run aground, for now anyway. Now I’ve got the tasks of researching and rewriting our strategy.

We Are Learning

In late 2018, we learned that most people are not the risk-takers required to launch a website that has never been done, one that connects property owners and prospective tenants so they can help each other. But we have not given up.

During this learning period, I also worked one-on-one with low- or no-income individuals to find housing and to support their mental health.  Thus far, our greatest success has been with mental health support alleviating stress and anxiety with emotional resolution using body sensation identification, a process taught by our Secretary, Cedric Bertelli.  I wish we could say we helped someone find a home, but the amount of effort it took to place one small family started to become a full-time job in itself.  (We still hope to help this family find a home.  If you know of one, please email me!)

Working on a New Strategy

Since we could not find enough participants to build the Care For Us demonstration website, the project went on the backburner.  Today we are rewriting our strategy to include real property development to create affordable housing, which if all goes well may have incentives for investment (i.e., we will look for a loan unless an angel appears with $3.5M).  Not enough homes are being built.  And with my Urban Studies background and architecture experience, development seems like the best route to take.

Our new strategy also considers expanding our reach, offering pro bono emotional resolution services to those who are cost-burdened, especially those who face social microaggressions.  Microaggression is subtle language denigrating a person because of a lack of social privilege.  Upon reading Cornell University sociologist Richard Swedberg’s Principles of Economic Sociology,  I am convinced that lack of confidence among low- and middle-income workers is hindering progress for affordable housing. But we can foster the confidence needed for people to find their own solutions to economic problems.

These changes will be reflected soon on our website.

Focused on the Same Goal

There is still a dire need to represent a population that struggles needlessly because of one simple problem: housing is too expensive.  No one should be paying more than 30% of their gross income for shelter.  Nor should anyone need to work more than 40 hours a week just to pay rent.  Because of the need, we are pushing forward to find and implement solutions.

How to Help

There are many ways you can help us progress:

  • Volunteer. We need help with business planning, strategy, web development, WordPress administration, marketing, real estate law, and community planning.
  • Donate.  Make a financial contribution with the button or to the mailing address at the bottom of this letter.  If you’re in the Bay Area, donate unwanted clothes, furniture, or household items in good condition to Community Thrift Store on Valencia Street in San Francisco.
  • Share. Follow us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter; and tell your friends about us.  Read our blog. If our articles make sense, forward them on.
  • Give Feedback. Comment on our Facebook page and Instagram posts.  Send us a message. Maybe this newsletter raises your eyebrows, i.e., only $3.5M for development? (It’s only part of a long-term strategy.) We can use all the help we can get, and getting feedback is helpful.
  • Provide Space. We are looking for locations where we can conduct one-on-one emotional resolution sessions, and where we can teach groups of about 8 to 10 people how to resolve difficult emotions on their own.

Achieving housing for all takes community effort on all levels — from government official to taxpayer to person on the street.  Let’s make housing happen together.

Forever grateful,

Kiai
Founder, CEO
Care Association

Care is kind.SM

What is Cohousing?

Cohousing is a form of housing created as an intentional community in which people share household tasks, resources, and space. Living cooperatively can reduce cost of living and prevent isolation or loneliness. For thousands of cohousing residents, it has become the only way to live within their economic means.

The term came into use with the innovative advances to social housing in Denmark from the early 1970s. Housing was in short supply and demands resulted in progressive movements such as the “free state” of Christiania and the rise of social democracy. Cohousing may take the form of a cooperative or as a collective. Cooperatives are generally formed for economic sustainability and often have written bylaws. Some are legally structured as corporate entities or associations. Collectives tend to have a less formal structure.

Cooperatives

In real estate, cooperatives are legal entities formed to share the repayment of debt on real property (land and structures). Many cooperatives also share common spaces and amenities, such as gyms. Lesser known, cooperative living may not be structured for land ownership. And it differs from legal cooperatives as well as from houses shared by multiple roommates in intention. While the term cooperative has been used to mean different things, the main idea of cooperative housing is that it is formed with the intention of sharing the burdens of cost and responsibility, and for fostering strength of community.

While cohousing includes a range of different shared arrangements, economically-viable cooperative housing is an option for affordable housing that needs more attention.

Andrew, an owner of a young business, shares a glimpse of living in a highly affordable cohousing arrangement in Cambridge, MA, in the following video.

Resources

For more information on cohousing and cooperatives, visit the following links: