Business & Economy

Having a job (or 2, or 3) doesn't mean you can afford to live in California

After finishing his first Uber/Lyft driving shift, Chad Bordes heads to the gym to shower and change before starting his next job selling cars online, March 15, 2018.
After finishing his first Uber/Lyft driving shift, Chad Bordes heads to the gym to shower and change before starting his next job selling cars online, March 15, 2018.
Amita Sharma

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Sandwiched between California’s iconic Highway 101 and the Pacific Ocean is a parking lot in Encinitas, where Chad Bordes’ car doubled as his home.

The rain pounded and the wind blew; it was 3:30 in the morning in mid-March and still dark outside. Bordes emerged from the front seat of his gray Nissan Altima, wearing a t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops. He walked over to his trunk, that also served as his closet.

The newness of the day had him bleary-eyed. “You wake up and you’re like, 'Oh, I’m in my car,'” Bordes said. “It’s like a bad episode of ‘Groundhog Day,’ everyday.”

Bordes lived out of his car for the month of March; it was light years from what he imagined for himself. Bordes is 46 years old. He has an MBA from the University of Phoenix.

He drives Uber and Lyft and has a part-time job with an online car auction company.

Still, it’s not enough to pay the bills.

For a time, Bordes was among the estimated 134,000 Californians who are homeless, according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The state doesn’t keep track of how many of those people have jobs. But, as the cost of living in California continues to rise, some residents find themselves with jobs that don’t pay enough to afford a stable place to live.

Until the end of February, Bordes rented a room in a home in Encinitas for $750 a month. But the owner decided to sell and Bordes’s take-home pay of between $2,000 and $2,400 a month wasn’t enough to get a one-bedroom apartment in San Diego, where the average rent for a one-bedroom runs about $1,700 a month, according to MarketPointe Realty Advisors in San Diego.

So, he lived in his car for a month.

In April, he found a room in a home in Vista for $450 on Craigslist.

“It’s pretty small, Bordes said.“It’s an 8-by-8. It’s actually a laundry room. It’s got a closet.  It’s got windows. It’s a place to rest my head.”

He said he’s grateful for the room but “this situation is month-to-month. I don’t know how long the person I am living there with will stay there. I mean it’s a likely possibility that I might end up in my car again.”

Bordes owes nearly $100,000 in student loan debt on his MBA. His monthly payments to pay that down is $1,300.

He’s had financial problems in the past. Bordes filed for bankruptcy in 2003 after a divorce. But he said he’s worked hard to rebuild his credit.

At 3:45 a.m., Bordes work day began. “Alright, another day in paradise,” he said as he drove out to the gas station.

A full tank cost him $55. Then he checked Uber and Lyft ride requests.

“I’m looking for the longer rides, 45 minutes plus,” Bordes said. “I like to do two of those in the morning because it starts me off with $70 or $80 in the morning right off the bat.”

At 4:30 a.m., his smartphone pinged. He picked up a couple in the northern tip of San Diego County to take them to the airport. He made $40.

At 7 a.m., Bordes went to a gym to shower and change into a fresh set of clothes. By 7:30 a.m., he was out the door to start his next job. Already, he was tired.

His shift selling cars online ended at 3 p.m. and he went back to driving.

“It’s very, very exhausting,” Bordes said. “There are times during the day when I’ll just turn the apps off, if I am not working at my other job, and just try to catch a 15-minute nap because I’m exhausted.”

When Bordes was living in his car, he made sure to leave room in his trunk for his passenger’s luggage. He hid his own belongings — clothes, laptop, pillow and blanket — tucked underneath a black towel. He didn’t often talk about his living circumstances but said the typical reaction when he did, was one of disbelief.

“It’s shock,” Bordes said. “It’s like, ’whoa, why are you living in your car?’”

Bordes asked himself that same question. He thought his MBA would have enabled him to get a job that paid at least between $75,000 and $100,000 a year.

“I thought the degree would make me more marketable,” he said.

But it hasn’t paid off.

Bordes said he sneaks in time during the day to search for sales and marketing jobs.

So far, he’s only received rejections. Bordes said he hasn’t even gotten a call back for entry-level jobs that start at $36,000.

He doesn’t know why exactly. He guesses that’s because he’s not using keywords in his resume that would prompt a company to respond, or maybe there just aren’t enough middle income jobs or perhaps his MBA makes him overqualified.

“I wake up in the morning and I’m just sad and I think, God, I wish things were different. I wish I would have gone down a different track or gotten a different degree.”

The wondering. The work. The living situation. It has drained him.

“There are times I just get really emotional,” Bordes said. “I just start crying. I get really sad. One of the things I think about is, Oh, yeah my parents would be real proud of me, 46 living in my car. My parents had bigger dreams. My dad never went to college. My mom didn’t go to college either. They held bigger dreams for me.”

But, there was fire in his eyes when asked what he would like to know from California’s politicians.

“How did we get here?” Bordes wanted to know. “How did we get to a point where we devalue human life to where it’s okay if we step over homeless people? Why isn’t there more housing being built for lower income families? What are we doing to bring more jobs in?”

After another two-hour Uber/Lyft shift, at 8:30 p.m., Bordes finished his day.  His fatigue left him cynical about how the state’s politicians might answer him.

“They don’t care,” Bordes said. “Honestly, they don’t care.”

The California Dream series is a statewide media collaboration of CALmatters, KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the James Irvine Foundation.