Residents got a rare look at roughly how much you’d have to make – and pay – for affordable housing in Orange County during county Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting. 

City councils and the OC Board of Supervisors routinely approve housing projects that contain some affordable housing, but it’s rarely broken down into dollars.

While approving an overall $2 million loan for a 60-unit project in Irvine, Supervisor Katrina Foley asked staff how much the rents would be for low-income housing and how much a person would have to make in order to qualify for it. 

County staff said rents could be as low as $286 a month and as high as $2,819 a month, depending on a person’s income bracket and what size apartment they’re renting. 

“Probably most our staff on the sixth floor could qualify,” Foley said. 

In a follow up text message on Tuesday, Foley said “Any county employee making $25-35 per hour qualifies,” adding that most blue collar workers, like retail employees or bus drivers, would qualify for the new housing project.

The $42 million project is expected to create 60 new homes mostly for people in the 30-80% Area Median Income range and 10 one-bedroom units will be reserved for mentally ill homeless people – eight of those units will be subsidized by vouchers from the OC Health Care Agency. 

According to a staff report, there will also be onsite supportive services provided by the County’s Health Care Agency as well as Families Forward, a nonprofit, which may include counseling, financial literacy, healthy living and wellness classes – depending on residents’ needs.

Julia Bidwell, director of the county’s Housing and Community Resources department, said the lowest income bracket – people making less than $28,500 a year – would have to pay $286 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. 

And for people in the highest income bracket – making less than $76,000 a year  – would have to pay $2,442 in rent for a two-bedroom apartment and $2,819 for a three-bedroom apartment.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee said he was “reluctantly supporting” the project because it contains some housing designated for extremely low income people, but not as much as he’d like to see. 

“All the other rents are at 50, 60, 70, 80% of area median income, and not really helping enough people that I see in need,” he said.

In Orange County, a person making less than $76,000 a year is considered low income, according to limits set by the state Housing and Community Development Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.   

The county’s median household income is about $100,000 and the median gross rent is around $2,000, according to the U.S. Census.

“As you can hear from what is affordable here in Orange County now,” Foley said during the meeting. “People qualify and they’re getting paid a decent wage, more than a living wage and they’re still qualifying in Orange County because the cost of living and the income here are so high.”

She urged city and county officials to focus on creating housing for people working in the restaurant and retail industries.

“These are our workers here in Orange County that are driving our economy.”

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors housing discussion comes as officials in Sacramento increased pressure on local governments to bolster housing stock across the Golden State to address the housing unaffordability crisis through controversial mandates. 

According to a County staff report, development costs have shot up due to inflation, a workforce shortage, material shortage and a rise in interest loan rates.

Meanwhile, a rising number of residents, activists and community groups are increasingly calling on city councils for rent control, with Buena Park City Council members seemingly poised to adopt some form of rent caps. 

[Read: Calls for Rent Control Increase in Orange County as Housing Crisis Worsens]

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced they’re expanding their lawsuit against Huntington Beach for failing to adopt a state-mandated housing plan.

[Read: California Sues Huntington Beach for Failing to Adopt a Housing Plan]

In Orange County, local cities have to collectively zone for over 180,000 new homes – 75,000 of them have to be designated for very low and low income families.

About half of OC cities as well as the County of Orange itself do not have a plan certified by state officials.

Spencer Custodio is the civic editor. You can reach him at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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