Irvine’s Housing Crisis – How Housing Insecurity Is Affecting Both Students and Residents in Irvine

By: Kaitlin Sunmi Hwangbo

Photography: City of Irvine

Throughout 2019, there was a decrease in the number of houses sold in Orange County. This has been shown to be due, in part, to more expensive housing. 

Orange County’s housing market experienced the slowest start to a year since the Great Recession in 2009. In fact, the first quarter of 2019 has been the “third-slowest-selling” quarter since 1988, as reported by the Orange County Register

However, home sale trends in Irvine have shown increasing median list prices of houses every year. The median list price of homes in Irvine was $935 thousand, which is a continuation of the 1.1% increasing trend happening every year. In comparison to the median list price, the median sale price is lower at around $835 thousand. 

CoreLogic found that the number of houses sold in Irvine and Tustin decreased by 23% since 2018. In 2018, the number of homes sold totaled to 1,246, but the homes sold in 2019 totaled to just 962. 

As a result of increasing prices and other factors, many housing concerns have risen in Irvine. This includes housing insecurity among students, low-income families and individuals. 

Despite the high price students already pay for their respective housing, the City of Irvine has shown interest in placing stricter regulations on student housing through the Zoning Ordinance brought up earlier this year. In this ordinance, Irvine City Council approved tighter restrictions on boarding houses and short-term rentals, which only fuels the threat of housing insecurity among students.

In addition, this ordinance required that households must be a “single housekeeping unit.” This entails that those within the household must “share living expenses, chores, meals and/or social, economic and psychological commitments.” 

However, the ordinance was not passed and is currently undergoing amendments. It not only violated the “Fair Housing Act,” but also brought up the question of whether the government can deem certain people able to live in the same household. 

“The government can reasonably restrict the number of people living in a facility, whether or not the government can restrict it by relations or not related is a very difficult question,” said UC Irvine Clinical Professor of Law Robert Solomon. “We are in a changing environment where that is less likely to be accepted than it has been in the past. So, the notion of marriage as a reasonable standard on which government can base its policies is disappearing and will continue to disappear.”

According to Solomon, the government should only restrict zoning to size, structure, safety and reasonable occupancy by number rather than determining what constitutes people who live there.

To combat housing insecurity among students from the University of California, Irvine, the Associated Students UCI (ASUCI) Housing Security Commission was formed three years ago. 

“When the city proposed the boarding house ordinance, our commission was outraged at how clearly targeted it was towards students. In efforts to prevent the ordinance from passing, our commission attempted to educate both students and city council members as to how the ordinance would affect students,” said ASUCI Housing Security Commissioner Adriana Mejia. 

Representing the student population, the ASUCI Housing Security Commission set out to City Hall on March 12 to vocalize their opposition. They also sought local news sources like the Los Angeles Times to bring more publicity and support to the ongoing issue.

All but one of the four city council members voted in favor of the ordinance on March 12. The reasoning behind this was that many residents were upset about the overflowing trash cans and crowded parking lots. 

Along with the student boarding house crackdown, there is also a lack of resident participation in the regional crisis of homelessness in Orange County. 

Earlier this year, Irvine, among four other Orange County cities, was sued for the mistreatment of homeless people and the lack of shelters in the city. Irvine has been historically bad at combating homelessness and insecurity. 

“We could just call it racism or ‘not in my backyard’ or anti-poverty. So, it is true that a lot of people come to Irvine because they have an image of the schools and the housing and they don’t want an economically diverse community,” Professor Solomon said. 

There is another dilemma of local control and who is in charge of the decision making. The City of Irvine is a municipality, consisting of a corporate existence along with a local governance. After the county came to an agreement with the plaintiff suing them, the municipalities would not honor the agreement. Thus, the issue of homelessness and lack of economic diversity is still ongoing.

In spite of the setbacks, there are practical short-term and long-term measures that can be taken in order to best combat housing insecurity. However, it is important to consider the different populations in Irvine and their needs. 

“If we are talking about a homeless population, roughly a third of them are going to be single people with mental health problems… particularly men with mental health problems. And there’s one solution to that: supportive housing,” Professor Solomon said. 

Supportive housing includes both housing and services. Such services include mental and physical health services, job training and drug and alcohol treatment. Typically, a normal homeless shelter in Orange County includes services such as financial assistance, health services and disability services. 

Within the homeless population, there is a prominent veteran population that is often connected to mental health due to a high rate of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In supportive housing, it is also important to address  these needs. 

There is also a familial population with children. In this case, “Subsidized housing can be a permanent solution, especially if it is connected to some employment opportunities,” Professor Solomon said.

In essence, there is a two-tiered poverty system in the United States that Professor Solomon refers to. This system consists of those who do and do not have subsidies and the unfair differences between the two groups. Those with subsidies benefit while others who are narrowly disqualified for subsidies have to pay more than half of their income for housing. This leaves them with a minimal amount of money for other basic needs such as food. 

Section 8 was created as a solution to combat the homelessness of low-income people. It provides apartments and homes to qualified low-income people. Home Forward administers the rental subsidy in which Section 8 operates, and once the tenant has paid a minimum of 28.5% of their salary for rent, Home Forward pays the rest. However, since Irvine hardly has any affordable rental housing, it is nearly impossible to use Section 8. 

The high prices in Irvine have shown a consistent pattern in propagating the detrimental effects of housing insecurity and homelessness.