‘It is a crisis’: Palm Springs residents look to state and locals to end housing crisis

Residents of urban areas like Los Angeles are concerned that landlords and developers are becoming too picky about where to put up high-rise buildings and not providing enough housing It might not be unusual…

'It is a crisis': Palm Springs residents look to state and locals to end housing crisis

Residents of urban areas like Los Angeles are concerned that landlords and developers are becoming too picky about where to put up high-rise buildings and not providing enough housing

It might not be unusual to hear people worry about a hypothetical storm coming through their neighbourhood. But a consensus grew quickly among residents of the California desert town of Palm Springs this weekend, concerned that new, longer term residents were almost ignoring a more pressing crisis looming at the edges of the region.

Welcome to LA, where stories of housing crisis deepen and wages stagnate Read more

Around 270 new residents moved into Palm Springs last year, bringing the total resident to 115,000. Most are transient workers who come from the suburbs to sell their new-found freedom on the golf course or flip houses before heading back to the city where they lived. But many of the newcomers are not newcomers at all. They started their lives in the city when it was populated by poor migrant workers who moved north from Mexico in the late 1950s, as part of the very industry to which they are returning now.

“They’re friends with my niece and my nephew,” said Joanne Newman, a 76-year-old who worked as a housekeeper for migrant workers in Palm Springs. “They’re literally displaced people who just want the sun and the sun.”

That forced displacement is simply a front for the underlying issue, she says: nobody cares.

“Nobody is going to build anything for people in Palm Springs or the next town over because everybody has gone to the beach or the desert and they’re sitting on their mansion’s balcony with a cocktail and waiting for the next millionaire to come in and buy their spot,” she said.

For decades, Palm Springs residents have lived in fear of the apartment complexes and condos popping up in the desert. Vacant lots, littered with trash and empty shells of abandoned buildings, now encircle the town. As the population has swelled, landlords and developers have gradually become pickier about where to put up high-rise buildings, driving up rental prices and forcing out longtime residents who simply cannot afford the steep increases.

These effects have been mirrored in the seaside resort town of Santa Barbara, where developers have also had the foresight to build high-rise condos, creating a similar housing shortage. The Palm Springs Action Partnership and Urban Mobile Home Communities, a coalition of firms that build homes on shared-park and mobile home parks, held a grassroots meeting this past weekend to bring attention to the dire conditions in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. Both cities have recently brought in high-profile mayor’s forums to address the issue.

Palm Springs Action Partnership board member Paul Forrester, who also holds management positions at senior care communities in the city, explained that a growing number of people are moving into the area, and not paying their fair share.

“For so long, developers wanted to target this area, the poor immigrant families, and say, ‘You work on the golf course and we’ll pay you $1,000 a month for a house, and you won’t even do anything and you’ll just go home and drink your beer.’ But now that model is not working,” he said.

The alliance was founded after officials noted “an alarming number of trailer parks without child safety restraints and parked cars”, explained Katy Hernandez, the executive director.

Most other coastal cities have laws prohibiting rental properties to child-care workers and seasonal residents, but Palm Springs is not one of them. That has left both local and regional leaders scrambling to craft new rules that would cut down on the flight from pricey coastal city to the interiors of unincorporated neighborhoods, known as “upscaling”.

“When they fill their garages and their living rooms with their plasma TVs and the stables full of horses, the first thing they tell the new families is they’re going to move to Irvine,” Forrester said. “Go back to L.A.”

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