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Santa Barbara’s Recovery Blues

Residents Still Forced into ‘Extreme Competition’ for Rental Housing


Low-income workers throughout the South Coast will get a boost this week as the state’s new minimum-wage law goes into effect this Tuesday, raising the minimum amount from $8 an hour to $9 an hour. Given the “extreme competition” for rental housing throughout the South Coast, where vacancy levels have dropped below one percent ​— ​so described by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project ​— ​it remains to be seen how much actual relief that will provide.

Since the recovery, report author Dawn Dyer stated, rents have hit “record high levels.” According to Dyer, the “average” two-bedroom apartment now costs $1,922 a month. Assuming renters spend no more than one-third of their income on housing ​— ​the most they should, economists contend ​— ​Dyer calculated tenants of such a unit would need to earn $66,000 a year to qualify. Rents, she noted, remained flat during much of the recession, but have been making up for lost time since late 2012. During the recession, she added, median family income throughout the South Coast fell by 8.5 percent, and even with the recovery, still remains 2.5-3.5 percent below pre-recession levels of 2006.

While unemployment in Santa Barbara County is among the lowest in the state ​— ​and even lower throughout the South Coast ​— ​the majority of new jobs created since the recession have been heavily weighted in favor of service-industry positions, which tend to pay close to minimum wage levels. Efforts at the state level to increase wages even further ​— ​up to $13 an hour by 2017 ​— ​were voted down in committee last week. With that bill defeated, the next increase in the minimum wage ​— ​to $10 an hour ​— ​is slated for 2016.

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