New Santa Ana housing unattainable to most

housing story
The Rafferty being built in downtown Santa Ana. Photo by Lizeth Martinez / el Don

On the bus going to school, I see apartment buildings being built along the streets with LEASING SOON signs in front. And then I wonder to myself how much is the rent and how quickly the spots would be filled. It is the social norm that people eventually move out of their parents house.

 In 2018, the Orange County Housing Funding Strategy and the Orange County Housing Finance Trust outlined a plan to build 2,700 supportive housing units and more affordable housing, (which are defined differently in the strategy), by 2025. It is now late 2023 and as of the 2022 Strategy update, they have yet to complete their goal.

With all the triumphs that the city has done towards more housing which are appreciated, I don’t think the city has done enough to publicize the availability of affordable housing units, and they should expand access to them so it doesn’t just help a handful of people.

I’ve gone through the City of Santa Ana’s Affordable Housing Resources list then called and tried to go to the website of eight listed items on the family housing list. I’ve found two websites where you can’t sign up at all, five that are fully leased with a closed waitlist, and one that has an open waitlist but carries the potential of people being underqualified.

One such fully leased and closed waitlist housing development is Legacy Square located between N Spurgeon St and E Santa Ana Blvd in the downtown Santa Ana area. It was proposed by its property owner, National CORE- a nonprofit community housing builder and manager- in accordance with the city’s Affordable Housing Opportunity and Creation Ordinance.

It was designed to have 93 Housing Units with 33 devoted to those previously homeless or those who make within 30% of the Average Median Income of $127,800 a year assuming a family of four according to the state department of Housing and Community Development.

Legacy Square started leasing in February of 2023 with the waitlist filling up quickly and closing in 10 days. An operator from the leasing office told me that the next time I should check back is in at least three years and did not respond for comment on the ranges of rent when asked.

 According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the fair market rent for a one bedroom in Santa Ana is $2200 a month for a studio apartment.

The gist of the last two paragraphs is that while it was indeed helpful that the city approved the development of this housing development, I feel that with the limited housing units available, it still leaves many young adult residents blocked off from affordable apartment housing. 

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According to the latest census data, 12% of residents are within the ages of 18 to 24 otherwise known as Transitional Age Youth to the county department of health.

The housing development with the open waiting list that I signed up for is the City Gardens which when I called was fully leased but their waitlist updates on the first of the month and typically operates on a sliding scale rent program depending on the monthly income of the applicant.

If I make at least $2,200 a month but not more than $37,000 a year, I qualify for a very low income studio apartment rent of $890 a month. Making at least $3,600 a month but not more than $60,000 a year gets me the same studio apartment except for $1,480 a month. 

The former has a wait time of at least one to three years, but the latter has a wait time of one year according to the leasing agent that I called. 

The rent also is not static and increases once a year. A reminder that the minimum income in California is $15.50 an hour and if you sign up for work study, you get at least that much but only for 20 hours a week. 

To get approximately $2,200 a month in net pay, you need to work 40 hours a week. You would have $1,310 left for all other expenses. Also, 20 hours gives you approximately $1,187 a month according to We grow up with the notion that life is supposed to be hard and it always will be but it doesn’t always have to be. I am autistic and so that creates even more challenges for me to find and keep a job and it shouldn’t be this hard to juggle work and school and social life all at the same time.

The point of this last segment is to illustrate further the long waitlist times and the phenomenon of being under qualified which is making under the minimum amount of money to qualify for these rent programs which directly impacts college students in work-study or anyone who’s not working 40 hours a week just for the rent alone not including the other costs of living. Because living paycheck by paycheck isn’t really living, it’s just existing and fighting for life stability.

I’m calling for local governments to reconsider their fair housing rates and laws to include single low income people to be more equitable.

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