Not So Sheltered

RENT: $1,026 per month, split 10 or 20 ways

Here at the Shackled Arms—just your typical big-as-an-18th-century-cargo-ship apartment complex—the news that the average rent for an Orange County apartment has reached $1,026 per month didn't rattle anybody's cage.

"And thank goodness for that," whispered one of the residents with nervous relief. "The cage-rattling—well, let's just say we're trying to keep it to a minimum. It tends to cause a lot of trouble with the manager, who prides himself on running a tight ship."

Likewise, down in the Galley Apartments, nobody with an oar in the water has his mouth hanging open because of the news that the vacancy rates for OC apartments have dwindled to 2.3 percent. Well, not per se: the people snoring exhaustedly on the floor or all but gasping with thirst as they wait their turn at the kitchen faucet have technically dropped their jaws, although certainly not from surprise.

Bottom line, this rent-and-occupancy information, reported this month by the Novato-based real-estate research firm RealFacts, just wasn't news to anybody who has already been locked in the cargo hold of Orange County's high-priced, dry-docked houseboats while the apartment market makes like the bounding main. Naturally, they weren't jumping for joy about it—and not only because they lack the necessary head- and legroom. But neither are they complaining very loudly, which their roommates trying to catch a few winks between their second and third jobs undoubtedly appreciate.

Oh, some people are griping about it, suggesting that Orange County is basically shipping away its poor by steadily pricing them out. They claim to foresee a not-too-distant day when Orange County's population is going to be divided into haves and have-to-commute-from-Riversides. But such dire naysaying is obviously too simplistic, not to mention borderline elitist. Like all statistics, be they SAT scores or Lincoln Club membership dues, these RealFacts survey results are socioeconomically skewed. They would lump us all into one big, expensive, tastefully gift-wrapped box—oooh, maybe from Dunhill or Escada (ya think?) or some other deliciously exclusive South Coast Plaza shop. By doing this, however, RealFacts fails to consider the RealPeople behind the numbers—the people, for example, who clean the South Coast Plaza restrooms. Making such a big fuss about the rise in the "average rent" tends to ignore the key word in that phrase: average! And when you average a rent of $1,026 per month among, oh, let's say 10 or 20 people, the resulting per-person expense tumbles to an easily affordable range of between $51.30 and $102.60 per month. Run those numbers through the Amistad Income-Density Ratio, a complex equation that considers a worker's real wages and an apartment's resemblance to a slave ship, and it becomes obvious that Orange County continues to offer affordable rental shelter to people of all income levels.

There may have been only 2,713 apartment units built in Orange County so far this year, but that's a 17 percent gain over last year. Meanwhile, the county's economy has created more than 25,000 jobs in the same period, most of them low-paying and part-time—perfect for poor people.

Quality of living? C'mon, everybody knows that people who earn less must work more to keep themselves fed and clothed. It doesn't take much extrapolating to realize that all those extra hours at work mean less time at home. Thus, an apartment that might comfortably house three or four people working an eight-hour day can accommodate many more people who rotate in and out according to the comings and goings between one minimum-wage, part-time job and another. Sure, it's going to require a little organization and a healthy attitude, but that didn't stop the Pilgrims. It's all in the way you look at things. Drop anchor, friend, and welcome to America!!!


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