Study: Displaced Residents Face Many Other Obstacles

Thursday, June 22, 2017
Kate Bradshaw

Low-income renters who are displaced from their homes tend to experience many adverse impacts in other areas of their lives, a recent study that focused on San Mateo County residents shows.

Such displaced renters are left with fewer job options and health services, longer commutes and greater environmental and safety concerns, according to a study by researchers Justine Marcus and Mirian Zuk with U.C. Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

The data is based on in-depth surveys of 100 renters from San Mateo County who received assistance from Community Legal Services, an East Palo Alto nonprofit that helps low-income people.

Of the 100 renters, 58 had been displaced in the last two years. Respondents had a median household income of $25,480.

According to countywide date, 87 percent of low- and moderate-income renters in San Mateo County are "housing burdened," meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. Between 2000 and 2015, San Mateo County lost 44 percent of its non-subsidized affordable housing for low-income households.

The surveys found that of the people who reported being displaced in the last two years, one in three had experienced homelessness or marginal housing (defined as living in a motel or hotel, renting a garage, or "couch-surfing"); only one in five was able to find a new place to live within a mile of their former residence; and one in three left the county. Several reported that their families had to split up to find housing.

Those who did leave the county saw their one-way commute time increase by an average of 47 minutes and commute cost rise by $390 a month for the main household earner.

The study, published in May, also reported that respondents said they'd experienced landlord practices that could be considered harassment or discriminatory. In other instances, market forces created pressure on landlords to evict their current tenants because of plans to sell, renovate, or move into the property.

Between 2012 and 2015, the study reports, there was a 59 percent increase in the number of evictions for people who couldn't pay rent on time and a 300 percent in no-cause evictions in the county.

One survey respondent reported that after she complained about cockroaches in her Menlo Park apartment, the landlord told her to move out.

Another person reported being evicted from a Menlo Park property because the landlord received an unsolicited offer on the property for more money than he felt he could refuse.

In other instances, people had difficulty finding housing because landlords required credit checks or proof of income of triple the rent.

People who opted to move into cramped living quarters rather than be homeless said the close quarters limited privacy and strained relationships with the friends or family they were living with.

In communities where people relocated – mainly in eastern parts of the East Bay or the Central Valley, the study says – there are fewer healthcare facilities, and air quality is often worse. About two-thirds of kids in displaced families had to change schools.

The report concluded, "Homeless and marginal housing, often considered fringe experiences, were startlingly common among displaced households."

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