It has been about four months since Tom Roth of Ojai listed a room for rent in his two-bedroom one-bath house on craistlist.org. The last time he rented out a room, he paid for an ad in the local daily, and it was scooped up rather quickly. But that was four years ago, and times have certainly changed.

“Just in the past year, it seems like there are a lot of rooms for rent,” Roth said.

Roth has been a cabinet maker for the last 12 years. This is the first time since he began his career in carpentry that it has slowed down to such a degree that he has had to rent out both rooms of his home. He said he has been living out of his vintage Airstream trailer in his backyard in order to make both rooms available.

Roth is one of the many homeowners who are trying to make ends meet in the volatile economy. Just in the last week, hundreds of ads were posted on the free classified Web site in an attempt to secure tenants. Not only do the homeowners have a little extra income, but tenants also can find a good deal.

Even though prices range from $312 to share a room by the Pacific View Mall to $1,200 for a music-minded tenant to share a house that has a recording studio in Camarillo, for hundreds of single adults and families around Ventura County, prices of rooms for rent and rental properties in general are just out of reach.

Jose Gomez, chief operating officer of the San Buenaventura Housing Authority, has seen a drastic increase in requests for affordable housing vouchers, aka Section 8, and public housing, which are apartments owned by the Housing Authority.

“In terms of waiting lists of these two programs, the waiting list for public housing has increased a hundred percent from last year,” Gomes said. “Last year, we had a little over between 600 and 700 on the waiting list; now, 1,400.”

Section 8 applicants have also risen from 2,029 in December 2007 to 2,779 in December 2008; the increase in applicants is equivalent to a five-year waiting list for both sectors. With extremely limited affordable housing in a time of high demand, Gomez said that families are starting to consolidate: husband and wife are moving in with parents; single adults are teaming up to become roommates for the first time; families temporarily break up and live with relatives out of the area. Gomez said that some have had to resort to drastic measures.

“A family living out of their vehicle, it broke my heart,” he said. “They asked if we had any type of preference to families with children that live and work here in our city. (He said no, because almost everyone who applies has children.) We start to see more of this, the economy is very bad, a lot of lay offs, unemployment. I have seen situations, but not like this.”

While some believe it is not the responsibility of the taxpayers to provide affordable housing, Gomez said that the people who are seeking such accommodations were hard working individuals, that people from each end of the spectrum were susceptible to this flailing economy.

He also said that around 10 percent of those in Section 8 and public housing stay for longer than 10 years, which means that the majority move on and get out of poverty.

“I know we have the resources and the capabilities, we are just not fixing the problem,” he said.

Fortunately, the housing authority will always be a constant resource in the community since it is federally funded. Gomez is also hoping the new administration will allocate more focus on the overwhelming need for affordable housing.

While the government is slow-moving, the rental market is beginning to see sudden shifts. Southern California is notorious for high rents and uncooperative landlords. But as families move in with each others to split costs, the number of available apartments and rental homes is increasing. That forces landlords to negotiate in order to secure tenants.

Tom Sutphen of Towbes Group Inc., a property management firm with rental properties in Ventura and Santa Barbara, said this economy is definitely shifting in favor of the tenant.

“Consumer confidence is low,” Sutphen said. “It is really hard to predict what is going to happen in the market. Continued layoffs, how those impact our local situation; we saw that happen with Countrywide and Amgen. Local layoffs that will impact the area will continue the softness. I would tend to say this year, a pretty flat year at best, we will match last year, probably will be a little softer than last year.”

Softer means too much supply and not enough demand — a tenant’s market. Sutphen believes that over the next few months, renters will come across some really good deals, from deep discounts to one month’s rent free. While such deals come along even in a strong economy, the number of these deals will be up.

Sutphen also said he is seeing tenants bargaining with their current landlords to bring prices down.

“I have started to see some of that,” he said. “Property by property, there have been requests to lower rents. Each owner has to decide makes a good decision for them. Probably doesn’t hurt to ask, if they are having the things we are seeing such as reducing hours or days.”   

michael@vcreporter.com