Californians’ rising rents, minimum wage prompt calls for reform
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Two small beds, a refrigerator and a television fill the only bedroom in Jose Portillo’s apartment in the poor, high-density neighborhood near downtown known as the Pico-Union district.
There’s no running water in the cramped kitchen where paint peels in strips down the wall, the apartment’s gas oven is broken and a window overlooks an alley marred by gang graffiti.
Portillo said he pays $551.25 a month for the one-bedroom apartment in which three adults and his 8-year-old daughter live. The 46-year-old janitor earns $1,100 a month in his union job.
”As a worker, I’m here to tell you that it is not fair what is going on in this community,” Portillo said. ”We are residents in this community.”
Portillo spoke Wednesday during a press conference held outside his apartment complex. He was joined by low-income housing advocates, labor union representatives and Cardinal Roger Mahony, who all urged public-private partnerships to solve the affordable housing crisis gripping the state.
The press conference and tour of several apartments was in response to the annual ”Out of Reach” report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, which found California, with a minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, is the least affordable state for renters seeking two-bedroom apartments.
The report, released Tuesday, found the average California renter has to make $18.33 an hour to afford a decent two-bedroom apartment.
”To afford the average two-bedroom apartment a worker has to earn three times the minimum wage or work 126 hours a week at minimum wage in order to pay for it,” said Jan Breidenbach, executive director of the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing.
In Los Angeles County, the average worker must make $19.73 an hour to afford a decent apartment, and in several other parts of the state the problem is even worse, according to the report.
Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties lead the nation in terms of high affordability, with workers needing $33.60 an hour to afford modest two-bedroom apartments there. Orange County in Southern California ranked eighth nationally with renters needing to make $21.10 an hour to pay the rent.
The national average is $13.87 an hour.
”The lack of affordable housing and inadequate wages are key issues that need to be addressed if we are to create a stable social and economic infrastructure,” said Mahony, who is the head of the Catholic church’s Los Angeles Archdiocese. ”Housing is a basic human right. We should act now to address this crisis for the working people who are the backbone of our economy and the children who are its future.”
Miguel Contreras, executive secretary of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said the City Council and mayor should provide funding to spur construction of new housing.
”Los Angeles – that leads the country in the numbers of working poor, that leads the country in immigrant workers, that leads the country in uninsured workers, that leads the country in the disparity between the rich and the poor – is a place that can and must do better and housing continues to be a major obstacle for the working poor,” he said.
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