A photo of Doreen Weizel

Vacancy rates for apartments in North County San Diego are tightening, pushing rental prices higher and causing a crisis for lower-income renters who can’t afford the increases.

Some observers say that if the trend continues unchecked, some renters will be left with few options, including moving in with relatives or leaving the region altogether.

“Some may say they can’t live in California any more,” said Debbie Fountain, Carlsbad’s director of housing and redevelopment. “(Or) they may have to take more than one job. This has a quality of life impact.”

Builders say part of the problem are the hurdles they must jump through to get projects approved for construction.

Carlsbad has languished for years without any new apartment building, but this past week the City Council approved plans for a 364-unit apartment complex in the Robertson Ranch area. It’s the first major apartment project in Carlsbad in at least a decade, Fountain said.

The market has led rents from studios to three-bedrooms in the city to spike 10.4 percent over the past year — among the highest of anywhere in North County, according to data provided to RealFacts, a Novato, Calif., research firm that tracks apartment housing trends.

In Carlsbad, the average rent for a one-bedroom jumped 11.1 percent in the past year, from $1,544 to $1,716; the price of the average studio edged higher by 4.8 percent to $1,342; and the rents for a two-bedroom climbed 8.6 percent to $1,711.

Meanwhile, vacancy rates in North County tightened to 2.9 percent as of March 30, from 5.5 percent two years ago, according to the RealFacts data. The region includes all major cities north of State Route 56, from Del Mar along the Pacific coastline to the Rancho Bernardo and Poway area along Interstate 15.

Doreen Weizel, 55, said she recently faced homelessness when a new management company came in to run her Oceanside apartment complex, and immediately raised rent by just $75. “I couldn’t pay it,” Weizel said. “My world came to an end. I had no vehicle to look for an apartment. It was hell,” she said. “I went onto the computer but couldn’t find anything.”

She was getting some help from federal assistance, but since she is unemployed, Weizel couldn’t cough up the extra cash. The landlord gave her three days to pay up or be evicted.

Fortunately, with the help of friends and North County Lifeline, a social services agency in Vista, she was able to find another apartment in the same community back in February — four months after her ordeal began. “I thought I was going to be destitute,” she said.

Fully occupied market

Such a low vacancy rate is “essentially a fully occupied market,” said Nick Grotjahn, a RealFacts spokesman. The nearly full rental market permits landlords to become more aggressive with rents, he said.

Indeed, North County rents rose on average 7.7 percent in the last year, to $1,515. That a 10.3 percent increase from two years ago.

“This doesn’t bode well for renters,” Grotjahn said.

What’s the end game? “Build your way out of it,” Grtojahn speculated. “But I doubt this will happen anytime soon because it won’t put a dent in the rents, which are rising faster than construction.”

Others blame the historic low interest rates on the higher rents.

“To me, the increase in rents are across the board in every income category, from low-income to high-income. My guess is that interest rates are so low that they are driving the prices of houses up to a point where people can’t afford them, thus forcing people into a rental market with a limited supply,” said Gary Hamilton, vice president of Carlsbad-based Hamilton Pacific Development, a commercial and residential builder.

Countywide, vacancy rates fell 25 percent from 5.6 percent in March 2013 to 4.2 percent in March 2015, the data shows.

In South County, vacancy rates tightened slightly to 4.7 percent in March, down 17.5 percent from 5.7 percent back in 2013.

Borre Winckel, president and chief executive officer of the Building Industry Association in San Diego, said he does not see the vacancy rates improving or rental rates softening with more supply being built in the market anytime soon.

“It’s an unmet demand,” said Winckel, who points to building permits issued for multi-family units as lagging demand substantially.

San Diego County saw permits sink to a low of 1,121 in 2010, then recover to 5,835 in 2013. But permits fell to 4,329 last year with some uptick seen in the first three months this year because developers fear they won’t be able to connect to a water meter due to the state’s drought.

“There are plenty of businesses where people are passing up coming to San Diego because they can’t find housing,” he said. “This sounds weird because we just had a recession. This is a pure supply and demand imbalance.”

Because of the tight market, developers of the newly opened Alexan Melrose Apartments in Vista saw an opportunity to go high-end, asking for rents substantially higher than the rest of the city by drawing from military personnel stationed at Camp Pendleton and the adjacent community of Oceanside.

“We’re at the right price points,” said Jaime Summers, business manager of the Melrose apartments. Rents range from $1,650 for a one-bedroom to $2,695 for a three-bedroom.


Michelle Edlin and her husband recently moved to the Alexan complex from Monterey. She said did they researched the rental market extensively before moving to North County in March.

“It’s a real pain in the butt,” said Edlin, who eyed 10 places before grabbing a one-bedroom apartment that cost them a bit more than they wanted to pay.

“We got kind of lucky,” Edlin said.

Vista saw an average 11.5 percent jump in rental rates over the past two years, with studios rising to $1,083 from $971 in the past year alone — the most of any North County city in this category, according to the RealFacts data.

In the past year, the average price of a one-bedrooms rose to $1.268 from $1,163 in Vista — a 9 percent jump. That’s slightly lower than the 11.1 percent jump seen in Carlsbad and 10 percent rise in Oceanside, where one-bedrooms went from $1,156 to $1,271.

Other communities are seeing higher rents coupled with low vacancy rates, according to RealFacts.

Vacancy rates in Escondido narrowed from 94.9 percent in March 2013 to its current 98.5 percent, while rents rose 10.5 percent to an average $1299 per rental unit from $1,175.

Vacancy rates in San Marcos tightened from 11.8 percent in early 2013 to its current 2.5 percent, while rents rose 7.3 percent to an average $1,646 per rental unit from $1,533.

Studio rental rates fell 1.5 percent in the Poway-Rancho Bernardo area to about $1,000 from $1,015 a year earlier. It was the only drop in studio apartment prices anywhere in North County, according to the data. Vacancy rates also fell in Poway, by nearly 1 percent from 96.6 percent in March 2013 to 95.7 percent, while rents rose 10.3 percent to an average $1,610 per rental unit from $1,460.

This article was originally published in San Diego Union Tribune and can be found HERE.

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