A 37-year-old making $85,000 a year is struggling to find a place to rent or buy in California
A 37-year-old making $85,000 a year is struggling to find a place to rent or buy in California, and it's a sign of how hard it is to find housing that feels affordable
By Jordan Pandy, 7 hrs ago
Brittany Phillips in Panama City Beach, Florida, where she moved back in with her mother.
Brittany Phillips made $85,000 a year in California and still struggled to find an affordable home.
She tried low-income housing, having roommates, and living in hotels.
Her story shows how hard it can be to secure stable housing in certain areas despite a good salary.
After living in California for 22 years, enduring steadily increasing rents and consistently out-of-reach home prices, Brittany Phillips finally reached her breaking point.
The single mom of one packed her bags for Florida and moved in with her mother in Panama City Beach, Florida, in August.
"I wanted a better life for my daughter," Phillips told Insider. "I loved California for so many reasons, and I built my life there. I've struggled and climbed mountains there, but at the end of the day, I was like, 'Is it worth it?'"
Before she decamped to Florida, Phillips, 37, moved regularly to find more affordable places to live. She said relocating so often took a toll on her mentally and financially. She went from what she described as a multimillion-dollar home she shared with her then-husband in Calabasas, a mountainous city outside Los Angeles home to the Kardashians and other celebrities, to paying $1,125 a month in rent for a 1,353-square-foot house in a more modest Southern California city an hour away.
But she ultimately found it too difficult to balance working enough hours to pay for adequate housing for herself and her 13-year-old daughter, Aniston, while also being present as a parent.
"It was really hard to work there and actually make enough money — unless you had a nanny or something — to even rent anything, because you had to choose: Do I want to be a parent, or do I want to work to pay off my bills?" she said.
Phillips works as a hairstylist and made about $85,000 a year when she lived in California. Her journey demonstrates just how difficult and unforgiving securing a roof over your head can be, even for those who make a good salary.
Do you make a decent salary and still struggle to afford housing? Reach out to the reporter Jordan Pandy at email@example.com with your story.
She chased affordability around Southern California
Phillips was a self-described Army brat who lived all over the US and beyond while she was growing up.
Born in Valdosta, Georgia, roughly a 30-minute drive north of the Florida border, Phillips lived in Maryland, Rhode Island, Germany, Virginia, and Hawaii before moving to Santa Clarita, California — a city 30 miles north of Los Angeles — in 2000.
Her parents divorced and left California, but, at just 17, she decided to stay. After bouncing around Los Angeles neighborhoods including Studio City and Hollywood — and even a short stint living out of her car — she eventually moved to a 4,200-square-foot home in swanky Calabasas with her eventual husband in 2005. (The median listing price in the area is $1.8 million, according to Realtor.com.)
In 2009, Phillips and her husband divorced. After living in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Woodland Hills, she found herself back in Calabasas in 2015. She was able to secure a two-bedroom unit for $1,600 because she qualified for low-income housing as a single mother. However, her rent increased to $2,300 after one year.
Unable to afford the $700 jump, Phillips moved into a two-bedroom house with her daughter in Ventura, a city 40 miles west known for its beaches, for $1,749 at the start of 2019.
COVID-19 caused another setback
Unable to work as a hairstylist early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Phillips briefly moved to Florida with her mother, as she could no longer pay rent. She started receiving relief payments and an EBT card, commonly known as food stamps, for her and her daughter. That helped her get back on her feet and back to Ventura.
"If I didn't have that, I don't know what I would've done," she said. "I would've been on the streets."
In Ventura, Phillips split half of a three-bedroom, 1,353-square-foot house with a roommate. While not an ideal, she was finally able to save.
"I started making like $6,500 to $8,000 a month depending on how many people came in" to get haircuts, she said. "I started finally getting my credit up."
But that security vanished after her landlord decided to sell the house.
For weeks she jumped between Airbnbs and hotel rooms ranging from $1,400 for two weeks to $150 a night — which drained her savings and wrecked her credit, making it challenging to apply for an apartment in California.
"It was impossible to survive anymore," she said. "I'm making good money, but I don't have anything to show for it."
Phillips' mother's house in Panama City Beach, Florida.
As she grew tired of scratching and clawing just to stay afloat, Phillips moved in with her mother in Florida.
Phillips made over the median salary of $78,672 in California, and she, like many others, still struggled to make it work.
"I had to survive since I was 17 years old there by myself, and it was hard," she said. "And at 37, to just have it all ripped from underneath me, I feel like I failed. How? I did everything right."
Do you make a decent salary and still struggle to afford housing? Reach out to reporter Jordan Pandy at firstname.lastname@example.org with your story.
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