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Growing Number Of San Diegans Need Rental Assistance

Audio

Aired 2/7/11

Poor families spending half of their earnings or more on rent jumped by 20 percent recently, according to a federal report. The problem is acute in San Diego.

— Low-income renters in cities and suburbs across the Western U.S. were some of the most likely to be paying most of their earnings in rent. They were also the least likely to get rental assistance, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Rick Gentry, president of the San Diego Housing Commission, said applications for the city’s most common rental assistance program have surged.

“Just in the city of San Diego, the waiting list, when I arrived here two and a half years ago, was just over 40,000 families,” he said. “Today it’s just over 50,000 families.”

San Diego’s sluggish job market means the wait is unlikely to get shorter soon. Only 20 to 25 spots open up in the program each month, Gentry said.

In addition to a long, backed up wait for rental assistance, the county’s stock of affordable housing lags well behind the region’s need, according to Susan Riggs Tinsky, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation.

“In terms of renters, really San Diego is one of the top tier of the most unaffordable cities for low-income renters,” she said. “Seventy-two percent of (those with) very-low and extremely low incomes are paying more than 30 percent of their income.”

Recent census estimates show just over 20 percent of San Diego County families earn what is considered very-low income, or less than half the area median income.

Both Tinsky and Gentry said federal discussions to cut spending on affordable housing programs could squeeze poor households even further.

“We’re a local agency,” Gentry said. “But, 70 percent of our funding comes from federal sources.”

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