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City Heights residents, immigrants among most severely rent burdened in San Diego

A new study shows that City Heights residents, and the many immigrant families who live there, are facing some of the most severe rental burdens in the county. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere has a look at the challenges facing renters in the surrounding area of that community.

Angelica Reyes Martinez is originally from Mexico City, but she grew up around San Diego and knows the city as her home.

Most recently she’s been renting in eastern North Park, a community that borders City Heights, for the last 12 years.

RELATED: Report says San Diego has the most unaffordable housing market


For Reyes Martinez, the rental situation is concerning. She feels stuck with the landlord and space she has due to increased rates across the county.

“I wouldn't mind to pay that much if my window wasn't broken, or if the termites weren't there or if the drain wasn’t clogged, things like that,” Reyes Martinez said.

A new scholarly article from researchers at the University of Southern California said diverse, immigrant communities are severely struggling to keep up with rising rents.

RELATED: San Diego is worst place in the country for Black renters, new report shows

City Heights was used as a focus group for the study, which was conducted back in 2018.


Gary Painter is the director of the USC Price Center and the article’s co-author. He said the strained rental situation extends beyond households.

“Individual families were having to cut back on necessities, but I think more importantly, networks that have supported new immigrants and existing immigrants within their immigrant communities have started to really feel strain,” Painter said.

A sign saying "Now Renting" is draped across the front of a building in City Heights, Feb. 22, 2022.
Carlos Castillo
A sign saying "Now Renting" is draped across the front of a building in City Heights, Feb. 22, 2022.

Reyes Martinez said many people she knows have found unconventional ways just to get by on a month-to-month basis. One example of those tradeoffs includes overcrowding rental units.

“There’s sometimes up to five families in one space,” Reyes Martinez said. “The rooms sometimes are doubled. Like you rent, but you know someone else is renting there. I don't know how that would work, I don't know if I can do that, ever.”

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Painter said the rental situation is difficult for many low-to-moderate-income families, but it's especially dire for immigrants and refugees.

“We can’t just simply say, ‘Well if people are on hard times, they can rely on their friends and family to support them.’ We’re actually at a point in time where that’s actually not likely to be the case,” Painter said. "If these strains continue you’ll actually start to see more large-scale societal impacts of people forced to live in their cars or maybe live on the streets.”

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The article’s authors suggested that the situation can be improved by building more affordable housing and enforcing greater tenant and rental protections.

The authors also said higher wages and expanded housing vouchers can help, along with assistance for down payments and security deposits.