SPECIAL REPORT: Putting Down Roots : The Times Poll : Options for Renters, Owners and the Homeless

Nearly two-thirds of North County residents have lived at their address for five years or less: 39% have lived in the same place for two years or less, 25% for three to five years. --The Times Poll

Despite the high cost of housing, 61% of North County residents are homeowners. But most newcomers aren't in that category: of those who have lived in North County for less than two years, 62% rent and 32% own, according to the Los Angeles Times Poll.

And some residents have no address at all.

Here is a quick look at some of the options that face home buyers, renters and the homeless in North County.

SINGLE-FAMILY HOMES

Throughout the 1980s, North County boomed. The quest for the American dream of a plot of land, a detached house and a two-car garage drove buyers farther and farther from where they worked and into the waiting arms of North County developers who recognized the area as the last bastion of affordable land.

Huge housing tracts went up seemingly overnight. Entire communities were built. A sea of red tile roofs spread over hillsides and canyons.

As houses sprang up like mushrooms, prices rose like a mushroom cloud. Homes that may have sold for $90,000 at the beginning of the decade sold for $175,000 at the end. By the end of 1990, the median price for a home in Bonsall was $265,000. In Poway it was $190,000. In San Marcos it was $165,000. In Solana Beach it was $400,000. In Del Mar it was $560,000. In Rancho Santa Fe it was $1.2 million.

Condominium prices also rose. By the end of 1990, the median price for a condominium unit in an inland area was in the low-to-mid-$100,000s. Along the beach, the median was close to $200,000.

The prices indicate significant differences among North County communities. In fact, according to Peter Dennehy of the real estate research firm The Myers Group, North County can be divided into nodes.

The North Coastal node is characterized by "in-fill" housing, homes built in empty spaces between larger developments. There are some master-planned communities in Carlsbad, the last frontier for large developments in the coastal region. For example, a new, upscale community is being built on Batiquitos Lagoon.

The I-15 corridor represents another node characterized by master-planned communities and stand-alone subdivisions.

The corridor along California 78 from Oceanside to San Marcos is yet another node. Huge new tracts like Rancho del Oro in Oceanside offer small lots and entry-level housing, Dennehy said. Now that San Marcos has become the new home of a branch of the California State University system, Dennehy expects even more of the same in that area.

But the age of the big tracts is coming to an end. There just isn't enough land to go around any more.

"The tract sizes will be smaller," Dennehy said. "Master-planned communities are the most efficient way to develop new housing, but there is not a lot of land available. There are not many places where there are 500 acres that can be developed. Smaller developments will take over and some in-fill stuff" will be built.

Most areas will continue to have a mix of housing prices from entry level to executive homes, Dennehy said, citing Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos and Carmel Mountain Ranch as examples of mixed developments.

Tract styles won't change much. Currently, the overwhelming style is Spanish.

Jim Saviar, senior vice president of the Buie Corp., a major area developer, said demand dictates style.

"People say they are sick of Spanish-style housing, but typically people moving into Southern California like a Spanish style roof," he said. "There seems to be an overabundance of it on the market, but it is preferential. We had one project in Rancho Bernardo with wood-shake roofing and, 5-to-1, people preferred the red tiles."

But there is another, more compelling reason for the Spanish style in housing tracts. According to Saviar, lot sizes will get smaller and smaller as land becomes more precious and developers are forced to cram more housing onto less land. Lots that were 6,000 square feet will be reduced, where local laws permit, to 4,500 square feet. That will eliminate the one-story home. Spanish styles are simpler to build over garages and living rooms.

The style of tracts may remain the same, but the features will differ in the near future. Buyers are beginning to opt for the greatest value in terms of square footage and don't care for lots of extra amenities.

"The way the market used to be was how many bells and whistles there were on a house, but now people are shopping value," Saviar said.

Dennehy agreed. He said the strongest demand for housing would be in the entry-level market, priced from $150,000 to $200,000.

But Spanish-style tracts are not all there is in North County. Escondido, for instance, has a small section of stately Victorians built around the turn of the century and more typical ranch style homes from the 1960s situated on third- or half-acre lots. Craftsman-era homes from the early 1900s are scattered up and down the coast. Valley Center will see increasing development, but on larger lots with golf courses as the centerpiece of the development. And of course, there are the large ranch homes of Rancho Santa Fe and Fairbanks Ranch.

The beach areas, as they have done for many years, will buck the trend. By far, the most individualistic housing will be built along the coast. Cardiff-based architect Kevin Farrell believes the costal environment is a natural place for housing experimentation. The most practical reason is that lots along the coast routinely sell for about $300,000. People who live at the beach generally have more money. They don't need to buy an entry-level tract home.

RENTAL MARKET

Although North County housing is typified by the single-family tract home, the rental market is nothing to sneeze at. According to the San Diego Assn. of Governments, there were 75,378 multifamily dwelling units in North County as of January, 1990. They range from deluxe beachfront properties loaded with extras to spartan studios in poor neighborhoods.

Although the types of apartments may vary from place to place, one thing is certain: It's a renter's market out there.

According to Allen Sandler of the Sperry Van Ness investment brokerage firm, there is an overabundance of apartment rentals right now--that is, there are more places to rent than there are people to rent them. That reflects several factors, the most basic being that, during the last decade, apartments were simply overbuilt.

Now, said Steve Jackson of the Oceanside Housing Department, the North County area is near the bottom of a seven-year cycle. Currently, the cycle is in a glut phase with double-digit vacancies for many complexes. Some buildings have even stood unfinished, victims of shriveled financing.

That's bad for owners, but good for renters.

If you carry good credit and are a landlord's pet, you can walk into a bargain with incentives like a month's rent free or $300 off. If you are willing to sign a six-month lease, said Sandler, you can wheel and deal with the landlord of a large project for additional discounts.

Not that owners want the word to get out. According to Sandler, who tracks vacancies, landlords will grossly overstate their occupancy rates in an effort to persuade callers that their building is popular and they have no need to give away the store to attract renters.

None of this means that renting an apartment in North County is an inexpensive proposition or that all communities are overbuilt. Poway, for example, reports a scant 2.2% vacancy rate in its 2,275 multifamily rental units.

Exactly what you will pay varies from place to place, but not much. For example, as of last July, Oceanside had a median rent of $572 per month. A small studio was going for about $403, a one-bedroom for $512, a two-bedroom for $628 and a three-bedroom for $741. According to Steve Jackson of the Oceanside Housing Department, the rents did not go down earlier this year even after many renters in the military were shipped to the Middle East.

Poway, with its low vacancy rate, reported just $2 more for a two-bedroom apartment. But the beach is another story. Add at least $100 for similar apartments in beach areas.

According to John Thorpe of the North County office of Apartment Locators, which lists 140 complexes, rents vary from the $1,200 per month charged by a Del Mar building with a pool, garage, Jacuzzi, washer and dryer, weight room and fireplace to an Oceanside studio with little to recommend it for $375.

"If you want a reasonable area with a few amenities, I tell people they are looking at $500 and up," Thorpe said.

The best bargains will come in larger complexes east of Interstate 5. The farther inland you go, with the exception of resort areas like La Costa, the better deal you'll find.

Vista, Oceanside, Escondido and the Rancho Bernardo/Rancho Penasquitos area have thousands of apartments in complexes with at least 20 units or more. Escondido leads the way with 9,584 such units, followed closely by Vista and Oceanside.

HOMELESS

Homeless activists and city officials say that red tile roofs, elegant beachfront homes and expansive ranches don't tell the whole story of North County's housing. The picture isn't complete until thousands of homeless people are painted in amid the back alleys, town centers and canyons.

Nobody knows how many homeless people live in North County. By their very nature, the homeless are hard to count as they slip through the cracks of society.

According to Dick Goodman, Oceanside's housing director, his city's homeless population is more than 1,000, but not more than 5,000. Those are the kinds of estimates you get when you ask those working with homeless populations.

But some things are known. For example, North County's homeless differ from more urbanized areas like San Diego. In San Diego, most of the homeless are urban, living on the streets, panhandling, or depending on social agencies for food and shelter. In North County, the majority of the homeless are day laborers and agricultural workers, mostly from Mexico and Central America, who live in migrant camps in canyons near farms.

Encinitas counted only 78 traditional homeless in a recent survey, although the city believes it missed many people living in campers and cars. But the city estimates hundreds of migrant workers live in ramshackle camps.

A year ago, Oceanside counted 980 urban homeless, but Goodman thinks many more than that live in the city's backcountry districts.

Researchers recently went into three Oceanside encampments and asked a variety of questions. They learned that most of the migrant workers are documented aliens, living in this country legally. Most have been coming back to the same campsites for years and have become, in the words of Goodman, "more or less permanent residents of Oceanside."

The migrants were asked how much they would be willing to pay for more traditional housing. The average was $48 per month, far below even the most optimistic estimates of how cheaply such housing could be provided.

In general, though, there is not much of an alternative for migrant workers, something Rafael Martinez of the North County Chaplaincy is trying to change.

"We are trying to get some projects working on two or three different levels, but so far the only thing we have been able to do is a camp which is not really housing, but a temporary kind of thing," Martinez said.

According to Martinez, his organization wants to develop a three-tiered approach to housing the homeless, especially migrants. One level above the camp is a temporary shelter in Solana Beach for families. They can live there for 90 days, receive employment counseling, and get back on their feet.

Next, North County Chaplaincy wants to gain control of a piece of land to build permanent regular housing for the working poor.

For the immediate future, though, Martinez is pessimistic. He believes the water shortage may force farmers to cut back their seasonal employment, leaving many migrants out of work or at least cutting their estimated $800 a month in earnings.

North County Housing is also working to provide housing for homeless people, especially in the Escondido area, where the group is based. According to Amy Rowland, North County Housing's founder and director, the organization's goal is to provide permanent housing for the poor based on their ability to pay.

Currently, North County Housing has six units of transitional apartments for homeless families. It is building two new projects totaling 21 units that will be made available for poor families. The very-low-income units will rent for about $275 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. The low-income units will rent for about $465 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. These prices include utilities.

Although the group receives most of its funding through foundation grants and block grants from the city of Escondido, Rowland hopes to eventually operate the nonprofit agency solely on receipts from the units themselves.

HOUSING Do you own the place where you live or do you pay rent?

61% Own

37% Rent

2% Rent-free

Own what?

46% Own detached

9% Own attached

4% Own mobile home

2% Own other

Rent what?

18% Rent apartment

11% Rent detached

6% Rent attached

1% Rent mobile home

1% Rent other

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