This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

How low-income people afford the expensive rents of Los Angeles, California


When Neil Diamond wrote that "palm trees grow and rents are low" he was talking about Los Angeles, California in the 1960s. Of course, he was from New York, so maybe it was just by comparison, I don't know. But by the time I moved to Los Angeles, in the 1980s, rents were not low, even in "less fashionable" neighborhoods, such as Canoga Park.

What I learned about how low-income people manage to survive in places where the rents are high has stayed with me, and haunted me a bit. They crowd together. Please let me explain.

When I moved into my little tiny studio apartment in Canoga Park in 1987, I had found the cheapest place that I could find that would give me access to finding work in Warner Center, which I did. While I looked for work I lived there, and I stayed there even after I got the job, because I was trying to figure out where to move to. Then the job ended, and I moved back to Phoenix.

In Phoenix I tried to describe it to my friends and it just seemed to make no sense. Because here in Phoenix, where rents actually are low, you really don't see that type of crowding. Sure, you'll see people sharing an apartment, but they're usually families in a one-bedroom, or two-bedroom. Nothing like I saw in Los Angeles.

My apartment complex in Canoga Park (Los Angeles), was nothing but studio apartments, about five hundred square feet. And in the whole time I lived there, I never even heard of anyone else living alone in one. In fact, the city of Los Angeles passed a law while I was living there limiting the number of people who could legally occupy a one-bedroom apartment. 12. Twelve. That was the maximum by law. Twelve or more people in an apartment isn't a cheerful full house, it's a group of people scrapping by and doing the best they can to cover the rent. I saw people living like that, and I will always remember.

When I moved out, in 1989, my neighbors across the way helped me load my van. They were a group of young men, about my age, who slept on the floor, in shifts. They all had jobs, and they all chipped in for the rent the best that they could. And they weren't unusual there. I was the weird one, living in a studio apartment all to myself. I was wealthy.