The couple, both 19, are among the dozens who apply monthly at Patterson Place Apartments, looking to rent within their means, only to be placed on a waiting list that can span from six months to a year.
Without a minimum age or disability requirement, local housing officials say, the apartment complex on Ward Avenue has become one of the few rental options in town for those seeking an affordable place to live.
“This is the only place we’ve even tried applying at, because it’s the only place we’ve found that is decent enough and that we can afford,” Stubbs said. “We’ve seen houses for rent in Patterson, but so far, they have all been out of our price range.”
As incomes continue to drop and unemployment rises, the demand for already limited affordable housing is increasing across the state and the nation, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was delivered to Congress last month.
The report found that the number of low-income Americans spending more than half of their monthly incomes on rent increased by 20 percent between 2007 and 2009, jolting more sharply than in any other two-year period since 1985 .
The trend extended across demographics, household types and regions, with more than 7 million people facing the same scenario nationwide, the report concluded.
At Patterson Place Apartments, manager Diana Coffey said a renter must earn more than twice the cost of the monthly rent for a chance at subsidized housing. That means an income of almost $1,000 a month just to qualify for a one-bedroom apartment at $495 a month.
The income ceiling for a single person is $38,000 annually, she said. A family of four must not make more than $53,000.
One of the more common reasons she must turn down renters is because they can’t meet the minimum income requirements, leading her to send away close to five of the 15 prospective renters she sees on average per month. Many of those looking for affordable housing are people who tell her they have lost their jobs or homes or remain unemployed because of the economy, she said.
“It’s really hard for me to turn someone down because they don’t make enough money,” Coffey said. “There just doesn’t seem to be very many places for people to go in Patterson for this kind of housing.”
The situation gets harder for those seeking low-cost housing in smaller communities, such as Patterson, where options are already limited due to location, said Michele Gonzales, deputy director of the Stanislaus County Housing Authority.
Within Patterson, housing options include Las Palmas Senior Housing Complex and El Solyo Village Apartments — for people age 62 and older or for those who are disabled — as well as Patterson Place Apartments, according to housing officials. The housing authority also manages 76 farm labor housing units and 40 migrant labor homes on the east side of the city.
Most in small communities, such as Patterson, use Housing Choice Vouchers from the housing authority, which subsidize part of a tenant’s rent by an average of $460 a month.
The local need has contributed to an increased level of homelessness and to families doubling up in the housing that is available, Gonzales said. She noted that data from countywide homeless counts in 2007 and 2009 showed a 40 percent increase in the number of homeless families.
It’s a reality that Dennis McCord, co-chairman of the local Helping Others Sleep Tonight homeless program, said he has seen first hand at the shelter his group runs.
“People are looking for housing that will allow them to stay within their budgets, and there is just not enough to fill that need — that’s all there is to it,” he said. “This town needs affordable housing like you wouldn’t believe.
“The city knows it and has turned a blind eye.”
Patterson’s affordable housing shortage is nothing new, said Albertina Reynoso, a program specialist with the Westside Community Alliance. Reynoso, who began a dialogue with city officials about the growing need when Mayor David Keller was in office, has helped low-income families in Patterson find housing for nearly a decade.
“The problem has only gotten worse,” she said. “People are still losing their jobs, their houses. It’s still an issue, and something that is not a priority but should be.”
Specifically, Reynoso questioned why certain city-approved projects that would have alleviated the need — such as the mammoth Villages of Patterson, Magnolia Greens, the La Paloma and Patterson Commons apartments on Highway 33 and the Patterson Housing complex near the high school — seem to have disappeared.
“Where are those projects, like the Villages, that promised us 500 low-income houses? What happened?” she said. “The properties are there, but nothing has come about.”
Partner in the Villages of Patterson project, John Ramos, did not return calls seeking comment before press time.
In an economic climate that has seen builders going bankrupt and local governments hoarding whatever cash they have for a rainy day, however, leaders are often faced with making hard choices, former Mayor Becky Campo said.
Despite those challenges, she said the need for the city to pursue creating affordable housing should be second only to improving public safety — a sentiment that, looking ahead, current Mayor Luis Molina said he believes will be monumental as well.
“This is absolutely still a problem for us, just as it was years ago,” Campo said. “The affordability is there now, but in terms of availability, it isn’t. … It’s a sign of the times and a need that has only increased exponentially.”
• Contact Kendall Septon at 892-6187 or email@example.com.