California’s housing crisis shows no signs of ending soon as more and more people find themselves unable to rent or buy housing of any kind, even when they have work and good incomes. Dennis Lewis is only one of thousands of people who turned their lives around, went to work, then suffered a sudden reversal of fortune that led to months of homelessness. Drug free and awaiting a return to work, Lewis has tried every available avenue. He still can’t find an apartment. Redemption shouldn’t be this hard. ed.
Thirteen years ago, Dennis Lewis was at the Grand Canyon arguing with, “something I didn’t believe in. I didn’t have any concept or belief in God, but I was still asking God why I shouldn’t commit suicide.”
Approaching the age of 30, Lewis already had two strikes, one in 2004 and the other in 2009. Guns and drugs had been constant companions, and his run-ins with the law had gotten increasingly dangerous. Strung out and despairing, the former Modesto resident had become more and more distraught.
After a phone call to a friend who urged him to, “come to Turlock and you will see something great and mighty,” Lewis reached a conclusion made famous by Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher and mathematician.
Though he’d never heard of Pascal, Lewis realized that believing in God could do no harm if God didn’t exist, and if God did exist, it was better to be a believer than an atheist. The reasoning is known as “Pascal’s Wager.”
I was homeless and living in my truck,” said Lewis of that time in his life when drugs and guns went everywhere he did. “Let’s put it this way, he said, “what do you have to lose if you decide to believe in God?”
“After I came back from the Grand Canyon and went to Turlock, I parked my truck in a church parking lot. They let me stay there. Every Sunday, the pastor always invited me to church. One day I went. After church, the pastor came and looked me straight in the eye. All he said was, ‘I was glad to see you in church today.’”
“Later, he told me he was starting a home for people like me. I went there and got off drugs and I’ve been sober ever since.”
Once off drugs, he found a better way. He recovered and found steady work as a union roofer. He has custody of a young son from a former relationship.
Things began going wrong after he was evicted from his apartment. Like many who’ve been evicted, he claims it was a wrongful action. Nonetheless, even if he had chosen to fight the eviction, he would have needed housing in the interim. That was last October.
Knowing that layoffs were coming during the slow season for roofing, Lewis asked to get released early so he could look for a rental apartment. At the time, he had no idea how difficult it would be to find a place to live.
“Even on unemployment, I can afford about $1000 a month,” he said. “When I’m working, I can pay $1600 or 1800. I just can’t find anywhere to live.”
After thinking he would find housing within a few weeks, Lewis has been staying at the Modesto Gospel Mission for the last six months.
“I’ve tried every agency in Stanislaus County,” he said. “I tried Community Housing and Shelter Services, Family Promise, the county access center, Liberty Property Management and every other service I could find. I even tried HUD.”
After a while, a pattern developed during Lewis’s search. “I would call an agency and they would refer me to another agency I had already called. It started to happen over and over.”
Ultimately, rising frustration led him to seek help from local politicians. “I’ve called every office I can think of,” he said. “I called Marie Alvarado-Gil, Juan Alanis, John Duarte and Josh Harder. I even called Tom McClintock. They all referred me to places I had already tried.”
Dennis Lewis isn’t looking for a handout. He expects to be back at work as soon the storm season ends. He’s been working for a major roofing company for eight years and has established a clean record after early run-ins with the law. He never realized how difficult it would be to find a place to live, even with a good job and income.
“Everyone needs to know there are a lot of people in my situation,” he said last week. “We try everything we can, and there’s just no housing. I need a place for me and my son and I can’t find one, no matter what I do.”
Me and my kids have been going through the same exact experience. It’s so heartbreaking and devastating what has this world come too.
This is all true I’ve been on the section 8 waiting list for 8years and I’m still waiting get it probably for another 8years so I’m moving to Texas just like every other person I know heard it was better
Nichole Adams says
God bless you sir. This path is not an easy one! Please don’t let this setback turn you back to your old ways, it only sets you further back. Speaking as someone who has walked the same path! No judgement here, just want you to continue moving forward!
don starr72 says
This state is getting ridiculous to try to live in.
M. Whit says
With millions of illegal aliens coming here and taking all the housing and all the other benefits California offers them, it’s no wonder why there’s no housing available! I pray you and your son find a place soon!
A. Lewis says
It’s so sad to see so many uninformed people like you using illegal aliens as the scapegoat for all of society’s woes. Not that this would matter to you if you’ve already watched too much lying on Fox News (at least they’re now finally being exposed for it), but THIS IS FACTUALLY UNTRUE. I wish more people could see how this is an exact parallel to what the German citizenry began to do when they had been repeatedly lied to by their fascist leader as well. Hitler convinced the ‘conservative Christian Republican’ like bloc in Germany that all their problems were because of Jews.
Just as Jews had nothing to do with Germany’s runaway inflation and problems at that time (it was really because of debts incurred by losing WWI, but that’s another story), illegal aliens are not the reason for our housing inflation today.
What is the reason, then? There are several factors:
(1) Utter lack of housing development over the past 15-20 years.
(2) The success of Silicon Valley creating such high cost of living which spills over into the Central Valley even though we don’t have the wages to keep up with it.
(3) Housing policy mistake after mistake, as described in much better detail by another commenter here, below.
(4) INFLATION which affects cost of housing/shelter just as it does everything else. And why the inflation? Again, a lot of factors, but two principal ones are excess fiscal and monetary stimulus to combat the economic effect of lockdowns, and >1 million people who died which creates a lack of workers for the workforce.
And here is the great irony about your anti-immigrant comment:
When companies can’t hire enough workers, because there aren’t enough of them, they have to increase pay significantly to pull them away from their current job. Then that company has to backfill that job, by offering someone else more money. And so on. At first glance this is a win for workers. However, companies can’t just become unprofitable because of higher salary costs, so they increase their prices. Which makes things cost more. Not just food and energy, but also cost of building housing. The cost of building permits. The cost of maintenance workers and building materials. The cost of landscaping. All this ends up increasing rent costs as well. This is what is called the “wage-price spiral,” a well known concept in economics.
Oh, also it means cost of living is higher for those same workers. If cost of living increases faster than pay raises, then inflation-adjusted incomes are actually lower, and leave people with even LESS money for rent.
You know what would fix that? More workers. More skilled programmers from India and Asia. More healthcare workers (nurses, dentists, doctors) from Philippines and southeast Asia. More contractors and truck drivers and fruit pickers from Mexico and central America.
As a student of economics and of history, it’s so frustrating to see how our current anti-immigrant policies really only make cost of living problems WORSE. Not better. If you lose a million people, probably 2/3 of who were in the work force, you’re gonna have inflation unless you import more workers, especially when demographics (smaller avg family sizes) are working against you as well.
Finally, I know a lot about housing and property management, and I can tell you that illegal aliens struggle as much or more with this gentleman in their quest to find permanent housing. Property managers are strict and need to see stable incomes, decent credit, etc which is really hard when you can’t get a legit job if you’re here illegally. Those that are here are usually bunching up on housing with friends and family, nothing else.
Eric Caine says
Mr. Lewis: We appreciate your informed comment very much. Thank you.
vangie bennett says
I too found myself homeless 20 years ago with my 2 daughters, the 15 year old is a Type 1 diabetic. I ran from an abusive 16 year marriage, the girls’ Dad. We were turned away from every shelter in the Bay Area, because I worked a 50 hour work week, but it was on the graveyard shift. On payday, the guys at work pooled their money and would get a hotel for us for a couple of nights each week. Otherwise the girls slept in the car in the parking lot. 2 months later, my diabetic daughter became very ill, all we ate was fast food for 2 months, and what the vendors would give us before they stocked the shelves at the grocery store I worked at. I made $50,000, and did not qualify for an apartment in the Bay Area. The ER doctor who admitted my daughter to the hospital called my Mom in Pleasanton and told her he would call CPS if I couldn’t find a place to live. He also told her he did not want to do that. She said the girls and I could stay with her. She got us off the streets, even though my job was now 1 1/4 hours away. 5 years later I met and married John. He accepted my kids as his own, and John and I never once had a cross word between us for 10 years up until he died. Maybe someone will open their heart and door for you. I will pray for you.
Why is it that there are hundreds of programs for single mothers with kids but not 1 for single fathers with kids..I am a single father with 2 daughters 16 and 12..housing is so bad in California..1 bedroom apt In Corona ca. $1900 and there was no stove or fridge in the apartment..how can this happen…
Michael J Barkley says
Homelessness and soaring rental housing costs, 2 sides of the same coin:
We need to put the blame where it belongs: Directly on Congress.
i. The Tax Reform Act of 1986 killed the commercial tax shelter rental property business; the Act
– cut back most accelerated depreciation and lengthened years for write-offs
– identified and taxed tax preference items
– limited passive income
– expanded alternative minimum tax
all of which removed the main incentives to build apartments; commercial rental property construction fell off a cliff, a few years later the Savings and Loan industry suffered resulting failures, so not only did apartment construction crater, huge brand new apartment complexes were bulldozed and lenders disappeared.
ii. In 1998 the Faircloth Amendment put a cap on subsidized housing. More could be built, but for every unit built one had to be destroyed. Combined with Congress cutting subsidized housing funding, subsidized housing also fell off a cliff.
iii. In or about 2008, because of their relationship to the housing crash, subprime loans and flipping of speculation houses tanked the low-income mortgage business, and Dodd-Frank provisions all but banned subsequent conventional low-income mortgages which has only recently been reemerging. Conventional low-income housing loans fell off a cliff.
So, we’re missing much of
– 30 years of commercial apartment construction,
– 20 years of subsidized housing,
– and 10 years of low-income housing loans,
and it is all the fault of Congress. The direct result is relentlessly growing homelessness and accelerating rents from the occupancy squeeze. About the only thing Congress didn’t cut was tents and sleeping bags. Desperate to “fix” the homeless problem, some municipalities are also trying to ban tents.
It is not the fault of local government, it is directly the fault of Congress. Congress broke the housing supply and produced soaring rents, Congress needs to fix it.
Eric Caine says
Thank you Mr. Barkley. We always appreciate informed comments.