No Dinner Out.

Santa Rosa renters collectively spend approximately $432 million a year on rent. Thousands of these people are considered “rent-burdened.” What does that mean? If you pay 30 percent or more of your disposable income on rent, you are financially burdened.

Here’s the breakdown: 

  • There are 65,600 total Santa Rosa households
  • 29,400 households rent
  • 16,500 (more than half of households) pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent
  • 8,100, or 28 percent, pay more than half of their monthly income on rent

Everyone needs a place to live, and if we’re being a little picky, we might want it to be free from hazards and disrepair. Let’s call rent the highest priority expense. All other expenses are paid from the remainder of income left after rent. Common sense says that the more a household spends on rent, the less money there is available for things like food.

Furthermore, a good body of evidence shows that when people are rent burdened they suffer a host of health maladies—from mental and psychological disorders to high blood pressure. Not only do they experience those health setbacks but they have less means to treat them.

High rents can have a negative impact on local businesses as well as renters. Think about this: If rent was reduced $100 per month for every Santa Rosa renter, $35.2 million a year would be freed up for other purchases. If only those classified as rent-burdened saw a $100 reduction, that would free up $20 million per year.

To put that number into perspective, here’s a short list of what Santa Rosans spent last year on other common things:

  • Health insurance: $227.5M
  • Dining Out: $206M
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables at home: $67.5M
  • Dairy products at home: $36.5M
  • Shoes: $30.1M
  • Children’s apparel: $22.6M

Imagine $35 million to $70 million more spent on those items instead of rent. That money, freed from the shackles of rent and applied to other expenditures, could ensure a higher quality of life while spreading the wealth to local establishments that employ residents.

Keep in mind that many of the rent-burdened are employed in the lowest income occupations in the most dominant sectors of our local economy, like food service. Restaurants are a prime example of where the double whammy of rent-burden and low wages hits hard. Restaurants employ a substantial number of folks who are rent-burdened due to low incomes.

As food workers attempt to survive in a high rent burden community, they often can’t afford the very product they produce.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 21,500 people employed locally in the category of Food Preparation and Serving. Santa Rosa restaurants employ 20 percent more food workers relative to our population size than other cities nationwide and we pay them higher wages (Santa Rosa ranks in the top ten for highest wages). Yet, those higher wages average $29,000 per year; as a result, high rents push some food workers to live in neighboring, less expensive counties and commute. Those that live locally must limit spending on other necessities like food. That’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

For a single person working in food service at that income, the ideal amount of rent per month is under $600. Good luck.

I spoke with Sonu Chandi, owner of the Chandi Group, who owns The County Bench, Bibi’s Burgers, Stout Brothers and Mountain Mike’s Pizza. Chandi Group has made a substantial investment in Santa Rosa. The triple whammy for restaurant owners like Chandi is a shortage of qualified staff, the need to pay the highest wages in the nation, and a missed customer opportunity when rent-burden keeps people from going out to eat. Chandi said his kitchen staff, which typically falls in the lower end of the income spectrum, is hardest hit.

Since Santa Rosa restaurants pay workers more than the average nationwide, the true solution to reducing rents lies in bringing economic factors into alignment. Building more affordable housing units and managing rental prices would be start. By freeing up disposable income, a move in this direction would benefit not just renters but the local economy as a whole.

Article Resources:

Statistics and health data come from:


Bureau of Labor Statistics

California Forward 


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