Photos by Keeley Smith.
Long Beach is headed toward a rental crisis. This is the position held by Housing Long Beach (HLB) and other community advocates that state that the city, which is comprised of nearly 60 percent renters, is headed down a perilous path of declining vacancy rates and skyrocketing rents. This was the impetus for a press conference last week, where HLB Executive Director Josh Butler called for the city to negotiate an ordinance to protect its renters.
The proposed Responsible Renter’s Ordinance would protect those who pay their rent on time and abide by the rules of their lease to be able to stay in place without the fear of unjustified evictions or exorbitant increases in rental rates from year to year. It would require just-cause for such actions.
The press conference was held outside a multi-unit apartment complex located on the 600 block of Linden Avenue where a recent mass eviction was levied to allegedly clear the way for a newer development.
Recent downtown developments have created a sort of domino effect as newer developments have spurred the redevelopment of existing buildings, Butler said, forcing renters out and raising rents.
“We’ve seen apartment buildings purchased and tenants cleared out. It’s no coincidence that right next door to the 6th Street Lofts, as soon as that building was completed, the wheels in motion started here at this building,” Butler said of the building. “Now that this building’s been cleared out, almost entirely, it’s no coincidence that right next door, that building’s been recently purchased, and those tenants are in limbo.”
The past few months of Long Beach City Council meetings have been littered with sales of former redevelopment agency land parcels to bidders who have pledged to build large-scale residential complexes that will both transform the downtown skyline and the annual income needed to afford to live within it. Two studies released in April seemed to confirm that notion, with the Zumper and the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate both predicting rent increases in Los Angeles County.
According to the Downtown Long Beach Associates 2016 Economic Profile, an annual report compiled detailing the cultural and socioeconomic makeup of DTLB, rental rates have increased 26 percent since 2010, with the price per square foot now ranging from about $1 to over $4.30. Meanwhile, the population of downtown has swelled during that same time frame, increasing to 32,000, an increase of 17 percent since 2010.
The recent sales of land and proposed plans suggest those numbers won't reverse course as the city seeks to create more density, with building plans that will surely match, if not surpass, the current rate of rent in downtown area.
This proliferation of luxury developments in the city, combined with low vacancy rates across the Los Angeles Metro region, which includes Long Beach—approximately 2.7 percent at the beginning of the year—have created a suppliers' market where an “out with the old and in with the new” approach could displace thousands. Only three other metro areas nationwide had lower vacancy rates (Portland, San Jose and Allentown,Pennsylvania), with the national average sitting at about 7 percent.
Gentrification has been a steady but increasing force in Long Beach and the region as a whole, according to a 2015 study compiled by Governing Magazine, a politics and local policy outlet. In its survey of the 50 largest cities nationwide, Long Beach was middle of the pack, in terms of tracts displaying signs of gentrification since 2000, with a 22.4 percent increase in gentrification from its rate of 0 percent prior to 2000.
The survey found that gentrification “greatly accelerated” in about 20 percent of neighborhoods in the study, with lower incomes and home values since 2000 nationwide. During the 1990s, that rate was about 9 percent. For the report, a tract was found to be gentrification-eligible if it had median household incomes and home values in the bottom 40th percentile of those surrounding it in a metro region at the beginning of the decade. It then tracked growth rates for both population and new residents with bachelor’s degrees.
Much of the gentrification occurring in Long Beach was centralized in the downtown area and the tract just north of Virginia Country Club. Home values skyrocketed, with the lower increases being in the 60 percent range, but several other tract areas seeing values appreciate by well over 100 percent. All tracts also saw stark increases in residents holding bachelor's degrees.
One other result found by the study was the relationship between where the white, non-hispanic population had grown and how home values were effected. Tracts that gentrified saw an average increase of white residents of over 4 percent and a decrease in crime of .7 percent. Tracts that were eligible to gentrify but didn’t see a drop in white residents and an increase in poverty of nearly 7 percent.
“Neighborhoods gentrifying since 2000 recorded population increases and became whiter, with the share of non-Hispanic white residents increasing an average of 4.3 percentage points,” the report said. “Meanwhile, lower-income neighborhoods that failed to gentrify experienced slight population losses and saw the concentration of minorities increase.”
Long Beach ranked fourth when compared to the largest cities in California, falling behind Sacramento (30 percent), Oakland (29.3 percent) and San Diego (27.5 percent) in terms of gentrification rate since 2000. San Francisco was fifth at 18.8 percent, but much of its gentrification happened before 2000.
The city with the highest rate was Portland, which had over 58 percent of its tracts gentrify. Washington D.C., Minneapolis and Seattle were also among those with a gentrifying rate over 50 percent.
HLB and members of its coalition of renters’ rights advocates (Latinos in Action, Californians for Justice, UNITE HERE Local 11 and the Foundation for Economic Democracy) are hopeful that future meetings with elected officials and the communities they serve will yield some protections for residents in Long Beach to help slow the tide of gentrification that has slowly swept through the city over the past decade and a half.
“The catastrophe that renters in Long Beach are facing is deepening and answers have been in short supply. A broad coalition is growing and calling for a Responsible Renter’s Ordinance to be enacted in order to address displacement,” said Martha Cota, founder and executive director of Latinos in Action. “A Responsible Renter’s Ordinance would help stabilize Long Beach neighborhoods by protecting tenants from eviction without a legitimate reason.”
Keeley Smith contributed to this report.