By Rachel Katz, Special to the Independent
The cost of living in Laguna Beach keeps ascending to new heights and some longtime residents are having trouble paying for extraordinarily priced homes.
Housing prices and rentals costs have rebounded since the downturn of 2008, making affordable housing more scarce for low-income or a single income households. “The low income situation in Laguna is not that great,” said Nadia Babayi, executive director of the Susi Q Center. She also serves on the city’s Senior Housing Task Force, convened to develop programs that assist seniors specifically with finding or retaining suitable housing.
For example, a rental listing for an unfurnished studio in downtown Laguna went for $1,150 in July 2011. A similar unfurnished studio in downtown is currently offered for $1,650 a month, a 43.5 percent increase in six years. Both are based on Team Laguna ads published in the Indy.
“The prices really fluctuate. I watch them go up one month and one month go down,” said Danielle Purcell, owner of Team Laguna, which specializes in the rental market. She said few studio apartments remain in town and ones that do exist rent for more than a $1,000 a month.
Purcell, in the real estate industry for 28 years, tries to cater to her client’s needs. “It has to do with the quality of the product,” said Purcell, “it’s size, quality, and location.” Remodeled and extravagant homes command enormous sums, but even small homes in Laguna Beach fetch nearly $1 million, according to real estate listings.
Housing prices surged nationally by 5.6 percent in June compared to a month ago, according to the Case-Shiller Index, which was released this past Tuesday, July 25.
In June, the national median price of a home was $310,000, according to the government census. That compares to median home prices in Laguna, which rose to $1.8 million, up almost 3 percent from 2016, the Orange County Register reported recently. That makes the median price for a home in Laguna nearly six times the national average.
With extreme prices like these, some Laguna residents are finding it difficult to live here. One demographic hit by the lack of affordable housing is the retired and elderly population.
“Our forgotten poor elders are local renters and homeowners who have been here for decades and live on very modest incomes,” said Chris Quilter, president of Laguna Beach Seniors. “What we have been doing to date is to lay a foundation for the kinds of sustainable programs and services that will help our local seniors ‘age in place’.”
Even with social security or a pension, senior residents are having trouble living in Laguna, but a task force program offering a network of home services aims to diminish some housing stress for seniors by helping them stay in their homes. But such initiatives fall short of adding to the pool of affordable housing. “I hate to see us lose these longtime locals,” said Quilter.
There are anecdotal examples of seniors reluctantly pulling up stakes. “I know a senior who lost her job and had to move,” said Babayi, “and a lot of seniors are still working. Thirty percent of their income will have to go to their rent,” she said. “They’re house rich but cash poor.”
Babayi says seniors who have owned houses for decades have valuable land, but the cost of living is starting to exceed their means.
Escalating housing prices also affect future generations and one anecdotal example suggests it’s already impacting the town. High housing costs may be a contributing factor in the projected decline in enrollment by the Laguna Beach School Unified School District. District officials couldn’t be reached to explain the rationale behind their projection.
“Honestly I don’t think young people can afford these homes,” said Babayi, an Irvine resident of two decades, who says she couldn’t afford to buy the house she owns based on its current value.
Home prices are rising throughout California, including in cities such as San Diego, Irvine and Newport Beach, according to Corelogic, of Irvine, which compiles business data. Currently, state legislators are working on bills to fund subsidized housing to expand the pool of affordable homes.
At current housing and rental prices, the generation with entry level and low-income jobs are likely to find themselves either squeezed out of Laguna Beach or forced to resort to shared housing.
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