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Finding a Place to Live on the Minimum Wage

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 11/03/2016 R.J. Marx
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SEASIDE -- We heard an impassioned plea last week at the Seaside City Council.
John Hagerty stood before councilors during public comment and said "I need a simple, inexpensive apartment in Seaside."
His words stirred councilors. In a city where housing is the key to a functioning workforce, they didn't need explaining.
"I am currently employed and work 30 to 40 hours per week," he said. "I generally net between $1,200 to $1,500 per month. I have no criminal record. I have good credit. I have no pets. I do not drink, smoke or do drugs. I rarely have company visit. I have no prior evictions."
Hagerty's problem is his owner is moving back into his apartment. Hagerty must be out by March 19.
"The rental market in Seaside is extremely limited," he said. "I have exhausted all the more traditional ways of looking for an apartment. I describe my references from previous landlords as 'absolutely golden.'"
No shrinking violet, Hagerty took his campaign to the streets as well, standing in the Safeway lot with a sign dramatizing his plight.
He not only designed and held a sign seeking an affordable rental, but provided a "fact sheet" with contact information, rationale, a work resume and even a list of his previous landlords for the past 10 years, with phone numbers and contact emails included.
Hagerty is an articulate voice for those he described as "the working poor."
"You have a serious problem in Seaside that has a very dramatic effect on the citizens you are responsible for," he told councilors.
"There are not enough apartments in Seaside to provide housing for its residents who are unable to afford to purchase their own home. The result of that shortage is that apartments that do become available are overpriced in a seller's market, making them unaffordable to the people who work the minimum- to low-wage jobs that support this town."
Out of price range
If Hagerty were a politician, he'd probably be pretty good at it. His presentation was as robust as his plea.
"Currently, I can only find one apartment to rent in the city of Seaside, a three-bedroom for over $1,000 a month, way out of my price range," Hagerty said. "I have people who are supportive and helpful who are networking for me and acting as references. The company that currently manages the place I live in is working to find me an affordable alternative. I'm on a first-name basis with every landlord in this city who will allow me to talk to them. I may now have to quit my job, apply for unemployment, try to explain this to them, and then move away to the charity of relatives on the other side of the state if I cannot find a place to live.
"I have not been late with my rent since 1990," he continued. "They like me at my job. I love my job. But I'm old. I'm broke-down. There's not that many jobs that I can physically do, but I'm still an asset to this community and I go out of my way to maintain that status wherever I live.
"The city of Seaside needs to do something for our citizens."
Response
Hagerty is not alone. At every level from high to low, a housing shortage exists, a result of the enticing environment and economic opportunities. There are jobs as Hagerty points out, but local businesses are hard-pressed to exceed the minimum wage.
The U.S. Census Bureau deems "30 percent rule" a guideline for the portion of income a family can spend for rent and still have enough left over for other nondiscretionary spending.
The 2014 U.S. Census reports a population of 6,481 in Seaside, with 4,501 housing units to serve them.
With the Oregon minimum wage at $9.25 per hour or $390 for a 40-hour week before taxes, that would represent a gross income of $1,560 per month. Forty percent of that for rent would be $624 per month.
On Craigslist, the only apartment fitting that bill was a 400-foot cabin in Seaview, Washington, for $625. The best bargain we found was in Ocean Park, Washington, a 600-foot cabin can be found for $550. In Seaside, a duplex for $925 is the lowest-priced listing.
On Zillow, we found a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment on Avenue I for $850 a month, and the same rental home on Craigslist.
Even if Hagerty or other minimum-wage workers pay 50 percent of their gross income -- $780 per month --­ they still would not be able to afford the cheapest listing in Seaside.
Consider that year-round tenants are also competing with short-term renters who generally pay a far higher amount, the numbers are daunting.
Council is listening
Hagerty's message is loud and clear and it was obvious Seaside city councilors heard it last week.
Mayor Don Larsen pointed out affordable units under construction behind Coast Hardware and another 74-home plan in the works.
Expansion of the city's urban growth boundary could provide more land for real estate development, but that comes with its own costs, City Manager Mark Winstanley said.

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