File photo by Stephanie Rivera of a multi-unit supportive housing development designed for seniors who have experienced homelessness.
Proponents of affordable housing programs and policies scored a major victory Tuesday night as the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to approve recommendations from the city’s Affordable and Workforce Housing Group (Study Group) at its weekly meeting.
The Study Group recommendations include adopting policies such as encouraging Project-Based Vouchers in new developments, creating and maintaining a database of publicly held land that can be used to build affordable units, implementing State law that reduces parking requirements for developments near public transportation and creating document-recording fees to fund housing initiatives.
“We have gone a step further than expected with our views on where we should be with affordable housing,” Executive Director of Long Beach Developmental Services Amy Bodek said.
According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, housing is considered affordable if the person paying spends less than 30 percent of his or her annual income on housing payments.
Paying over 30 percent is considered a “high housing burden,” as it leaves little money left for necessities such as food or medical care.
From February 2016 to February 2017, the Study Group, comprised of housing advocates, city staff, developers and former Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal, reviewed data, composed policy suggestions and three community meetings attended by over 200 residents.
Some of the recommendations included creating various revenue sources from recording and inclusionary housing fees. A recording fee would be attached to certain city documents that have to be filed with the city clerk. The inclusionary housing fee would be an annual fee paid by developers who want to opt-out of building affordable units in their developments.
While the report was approved, a motion from Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce amended section 3.6, putting it up for further study, before being implemented. The section recommends city council adjust the moderate-income definition from 80 to 120 percent of area median income to 80 to 150 percent.
The area median income sits around $52,000 a year. Some residents, Pearce included, worried that increasing the range of definition for moderate income by 30 percent might allow funding to go to individuals who don’t need help paying rent or mortgages.
The income classifications of moderate-income, low-income and extremely low-income relate to Long Beach’s Housing Trust Ordinance, which distributes resources among the community.
Pearce said that she wanted to make sure resources were going to those who needed it most, primarily those in the extremely low to low-income brackets. City staff will look further into how increasing the moderate-income definition will affect the Housing Trust Ordinance’s distribution of resources.
Currently, there are 6,477 publically assisted housing units located in Long Beach and 713 units of public housing and 6,666 Housing Choice Vouchers in use. In total, 13,856 of the 163,232 housing units, or 8.5 percent, in Long Beach are assisted by some local, state or federal program.
“There’s some really good stuff in here to move the conversation on to the next step,” Garcia said Tuesday night before yielding the floor for over an hour of public comments.
During this time, some residents voiced displeasure with the vague language of some of the recommendations and the absence of renter protection.
A group of social work graduate students from Cal State Long Beach reported their findings on rent conditions in the 90813 zip code, encompassed within the First District. The group cited frequent instances of overcrowding, lack of code enforcement and tenant unwillingness to take action for fear of being evicted in retribution.
Numerous other community members spoke for the need to include renter protection and rent control.
“Any proposals that don’t have renter protections are doomed to fail,” one man said.
One woman who lives on Sixth Street gave the city council photos from inside her apartment, which she said is in disrepair and infested with mice. As a low-income senior living on social security, the woman said she can’t afford to fix the apartment and that her landlord refuses to do anything about the problems.
Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, said that while he was happy to participate in the Study Group and help develop solutions to Long Beach’s housing problem, renters’ rights need to be at the forefront of housing discussions.
Long Beach is the largest city on the West Coast to not prescribe renter protections beyond what that State of California requires, he said before calling on city council to enact just cause eviction in Long Beach.
Currently, vacancy rates in Long Beach hover around 2 percent and the waitlist for affordable housing placement can be anywhere from three to eight years.
“[The] health of the community is not reflected in this report,” Butler said.
Building on the call to protect renters, one landlord broke from the ranks to support the moral case of enacting just cause evictions and rent control.
“We landlords don’t need unlimited rent increases,” he said.
The original report from the Study Group was set to include rent data and recommendations, but conflicting data and outdated information forced it to be removed.
City staff is working to compile accurate and recent data, which should be available to report to city council in the next 60 days.