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New Survey Finds Santa Monica One of Most Expensive Cities in California for Apartment Rentals

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

First of a series on housing

February 9, 2016 -- Santa Monica is one of the most expensive larger cities in California in which to rent an apartment, with a one-bedroom unit closing in on $3,000 a month --a 7 percent increase from 2014 and not too far behind San Francisco, among the priciest cities in the nation.

The median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Santa Monica was $2,900 a month last year, with a two-bedroom reaching $4,370 a month, according to a new survey released by Apartment List, a Bay Area-based company launched in 2011 that aggregates apartment listings nationwide.

San Francisco, which is routinely ranked among the most expensive places to own or rent, topped the chart at $3,520 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $4,760 for one with two bedrooms.

California remained one of the priciest states for rental housing.

Overall, the nation’s median rent rose 5.7 percent, although the report noted that few salary gains had been made even in the years after the 2007 Great Recession and earnings were mostly flat as rents continue to rise.

The report said vacancy rates continue to decline, especially in major urban areas like Los Angeles, where the vacancy rate was only 2.7 percent.

Locally, only a few of the county’s smallest and most exclusive communities had higher apartment rents than either Santa Monica or San Francisco. Median rents in Malibu reached $4,950 for two-bedroom units. In Beverly Hills median rent for a two-bedroom unit was $4,650.

Median cost for a two-bedroom unit in Los Angeles City was $2,650, or a 6.7% jump over January of 2015. Other expensive neighborhoods like West Hollywood dropped slightly, from $4,000 a month to $3,500. Marina del Rey climbed, from $3,820 to $3,940 a month, the survey found.

Rents in Santa Monica have been rising for years, so its high ranking in the Apartment List study did not surprise local experts. But it did concern them. About 70 percent of Santa Monica’s housing is rental.

“Part of the problem is that we are a tiny town, we have a lot of rentals and we’re right on the beach,” said Santa Monica Council Member Sue Himelrich, who is an attorney with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “There is a lot of pressure on the market. People are throwing money at rents.”

She said the median income for a family in Santa Monica is about $120,000, roughly twice the total median for the Los Angeles metropolitan area. Still, even those wage-earners are being priced out of the market.

Rentals at today’s market rates “are out of sight,” said City Housing Commissioner Michael Soloff.

So far, much of the focus by City officials has been on the lowest-income earners, particularly the elderly, who have been pushed out after their rent-controlled units went back to market rate. Soloff said the City lost 14,500 rent-controlled apartments between 1998 and last year and housing overall dropped from being affordable by about 60 percent of the population to half that percentage.

Approximately 6,000 households in Santa Monica earn less than $32,000 – typically senior citizens who, in fact, bring in far less and pay more than half of their income for rent, he said.

But the pressure of housing costs on the middle class, or even upper middle class, is worrisome, he said.

He noted that at the current rate of attrition, all of Santa Monica’s 12,000 rent-controlled apartments today will have turned over to new tenants within 20 years, he said, and the only housing available will be for the very well off, who can afford record market rents, or the very poor, who earn rare spots in subsidized units.

“That is a concern that many of the Housing Commission members have for the longer term,” he said.

According to the Apartment List analysis, more than half of the apartment dwellers in the United States qualify as “cost-burdened,” spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. The study analyzed U.S. Census data from 2007 through 2014, including all 50 states, 454 cities and 929 counties to determine where the cost burden was the worst for the nation’s 43 million renters.

Florida, Hawaii, and California fared the worst. Each had cost-burden rates of 57% or higher, with 30 percent of the renters in those states spending more than half their income on rent.

States on the coasts in the Northeast, Southeast and West performed poorly, with almost every one of them scoring a cost-burden rate higher than the national average.

For less-expensive housing, renters needed to live in the Midwest and Mountain West, the report found.

Apartment List also asked renters how satisfied they were with their home cities. Santa Monica was not included in the rankings, but the top listed were Plano, TX; Boston, MA, and Arlington, VA.

At the bottom were Newark, NJ; New Haven, CT, and Bridgeport, CT, which each received F grades for renter city satisfaction.

Los Angeles received a “city satisfaction” grade of B, ranking 48th out of 100 cities included. The Bay Area-based company said it questioned 18,675 renters.

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