By Miriam Raftery
June 22, 2019 (San Diego’s East County) – The city of San Diego ranked second worst in the nation for rent hikes on a one-bedroom apartment in 2018, at 17% with an average rent of $2,300, according to Rent.com. By contrast, the national average rent increase nationwide was 2.69% and California averaged a 4.48% increase in rents on one bedroom apartments during the same time period.
Rents are also skyrocketing in East County, where some communities had double digit rent hikes from March 2018 through March 2019 for 1 BR units:
Lemon Grove +15.66%
La Mesa +10.63%
El Cajon + 5.04%
Santee, by contrast, had only a modest 1.25% increase.
Spring Valley, the only unincorporated community in San Diego County with enough inventory to provide statistically valid data, had a 9.6% increase.
The average rents for these communities are:
Lemon Grove: $1666
La Mesa: $1570
El Cajon: $1445
Spring Valley: $1506
Brian Carberry with Rent.com cautions that the data does not include all rentals in these areas. The data relies on information from multi-family rental properties listed on ApartmentGuide.com.
“Both Lemon Grove and Santee had less than five properties, which might not give a representation of the total rental market in those cities,” Carberry cautions.
Population growth is one key factor fueling demand for rental housing in our region. The city of San Diego grew by over 11,000 new residents from July 2017 to July 2018) to more than 1.5 million residents. Figures for population increase were not provided for other areas in the county. The San Diego region’s sunny weather, beaches, outdoor activities and other attractions make it a perennially popular place to live, further exacerbating rental affordability.
East County has long been one of the county’s more affordable places to live, but as rents continue to spiral, many people are finding it harder to make ends meet, particularly those on low or fixed incomes.
Not surprisingly, homelessness remains high across our region. The 2019 Point in Time homeless count found 8,102 homeless people countywide – with 13% of those in East County. While countywide the January 2019 count’s total actually dipped 6% over the prior year, some East County communities saw increases in the number of homeless, including substantial increase in Lemon Grove, El Cajon, and Alpine homelessness.
Some activists at recent El Cajon City Council meetings have called on the Council to adopt rent controls, an action Council has resisted.
The state of California has sought to mandate more affordable housing, but has drawn resistance from communities that oppose zoning changes to allow rental units to be built in areas zoned as single family or make it easier to erect high-rise rental properties.
Some local cities such as La Mesa have enacted ordinances to make it easier for single-family homeowners to build “granny flats” which can be rented out or used to house family members. Many see infill development as a better option for creating affordable housing than erecting high-rises in small towns or massive new housing developments in rural, wildfire-prone areas. But even granny flat ordinances have met with opposition in some neighborhoods over parking concerns.
The County has recently increased funds allocated to build some low income rental housing on County properties with an aim of reducing homelessness and helping people at risk of becoming homeless avoid being out on the streets.
High rents are also very challenging for seniors on fixed incomes as well as for large families, including many immigrant families who came to East County during the Iraq War.
There are no easy solutions to the housing affordability crisis, but increasingly, the state and local governments are recognizing that as rents continue to spiral out of sight, income growth is not keeping pace. Even two-household incomes are often spending far more than experts advise on rent to keep a roof over their families’ heads, which means less money is available for other necessities such as food, transportation, children’s school supplies and medical care.