Renters priced out of L.A.

Instead, we're forced to settle for tacky strip malls and soulless commercial zones. You get in and you get out. There's little incentive to stroll the neighborhood or just hang out.

Large swaths of Santa Monica, Pico and La Cienega boulevards come to mind for their character-free approach to neighborhood ambience.

"We've emphasized separation of land use," said Raphael Bostic, a professor of urban planning and real estate at USC. "We keep residential with residential and commercial with commercial. It's very hard to get both on the same parcel."

One place that's changing is downtown, where renovations of once-moribund buildings are bringing in new residents, resulting in more of an East Coast atmosphere where commercial and residential properties co-exist side by side.

The trade-off for increased housing stock, though, is higher density, and that won't win you many friends among neighborhood activists or at City Hall. Adding more people per city block can be a tough sell in a city that seems overcrowded to begin with.

"Density is like a four-letter word these days, and that's a real challenge," Bostic said.

The upshot is that more and more people are being pushed farther from their jobs, farther from the city they'd like to call home.

That's what happened to Corbin, who moved from Torrance to Lancaster after a 2005 divorce.

"I looked for a place in Los Angeles," she said. "But there was nothing affordable in a decent area for a single mother with two daughters.

"My choice was either a drug-riddled, gang-infested neighborhood or a place so small I couldn't even get my furniture in."

Corbin pays $975 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment more than 70 miles from where she works. Her younger daughter attends school in L.A. so that Corbin can get to her quickly if something goes wrong. Her older daughter is 18 and stays most days with friends in Torrance while attending a community college.

Corbin isn't sure what awaits her older child once she graduates. She only knows that she doesn't want her daughter to have to spend four hours commuting every day like she does.

"I'm telling her that she has to stay in school and get an education," Corbin said. "That's going to dictate where she lives. It's going to dictate how she lives."

Consumer Confidential runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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