By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporter Rabiya Hussain
Every morning before Evangelina Ramirez leaves for work, she cleans the house in a meticulous manner so that everything is where it belongs. She does this, she says, so she can come home to a clean house where she can unwind after a busy day at work.
Ramirez, who works as a caregiver, shares a three-bedroom apartment in central Long Beach with her two teenage children, a roommate and her roommate’s daughter. Unfortunately for Ramirez, her dream of relaxing from a clean home after work is just that, a dream.
“As soon as I get home, I start feeling stressed because I have to work all day and then I go home and I find all the mess,” said Ramirez, who has lived in overcrowded homes for the past 20 years. “I start getting mad and start yelling at everybody.”
Stress is just one of many issues Ramirez faces as a result of living in a home packed with roommates. Families living in overcrowded housing are prone to decreased mental health and a decreased life expectancy, in addition to persistent stress. Additionally, children who grow up in overcrowded homes are more likely to fall behind in their education and exhibit behavioral issues, according to a report from Housing Long Beach.
These issues could also be impacting the nearly 20,000 Long Beach families that are currently living in overcrowded housing, which is defined more than 1.5 people per room, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Ramirez said she has noticed some of these issues in her own home.
“My [younger] son has ADHD,” said Ramirez, a community leader who works with organizations such as HLB and Latinos in Action. “When a kid who has ADHD starts listening to someone who’s yelling, they start feeling anxious so he just doesn’t want to be home.”
Ramirez said she is also concerned for her eldest son, who is now married and living in an overcrowded home of his own.
“I always kept my kids indoors so they don’t get into gangs and drugs, but the only thing [my oldest] son liked to do was eat. That made my son become overweight,” she said.
“Now he is an adult, and he is [an overweight] man who has many health problems.”
In spite of the issues associated with overcrowding, these living arrangements are a necessity, said Ramirez, who spent 17 years living in a small one-bedroom apartment with five others, prior to moving into her current home two years ago.
Ramirez said her two teenage children, one girl and one boy, came to the point where they couldn’t live in the same room together.
“They didn’t have space to do their homework and all the things they need to do,” Ramirez said. “I tried to find another apartment but I … can’t pay $ 1,400. It’s too much.”
Ramirez was able to find a roommate, her best friend’s sister, and bring her share of the rent down to $900, but even that amount is still more than she can afford to pay.
“My job pays minimum wage,” said Ramirez. “Most of the time, per month, I get around 1200 or 1400. Most of the money goes to rent and another $300 on bills, like electricity, gas, internet … and cellphone. Sometimes I don’t have enough money for food and that’s the biggest problem.”
Affordable housing, according to the federal government, should cost no more than 30 percent of a person’s income.
However, close to 130,000 Long Beach renters, including Ramirez, pay nearly 30 to 65 percent of their income on rent, said Kerry Gallagher, executive director of HLB.
“Some families cope and they have really affordable rent, but they live in really terrible, substandard units,” Gallagher said. “Other families cope by living in overcrowded homes. So it makes it more affordable, but it adds on all these impacts of the stress of living in an overcrowded environment.”
Such housing conditions have plagued the industrial and tourist destination of Long Beach for decades, largely due to disparities in the cost of housing and in the local job market.
Currently, median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,513 per month in downtown, and $1,200 in North Long Beach, requiring a person to earn an hourly rate of $29.09 and $23.07, respectively, according to Housing Long Beach.
According to the report, if the Long Beach tourism industry continues to create more and more low-paying service-sector jobs while the California minimum wage stays stagnant at only $8.00/hour, “the imbalance between jobs and housing will tip further and further toward unsustainability.”