Community organizations gathered Thursday to protest a development conference downtown and chanted slogans about gentrification and housing reform. Photos: Jason Ruiz
An early morning protest greeted those attending a conference at the World Trade Center in Long Beach Thursday as a number of neighborhood groups held signs and chanted anti-gentrification slogans outside an event aimed at potential developers looking to Long Beach for future projects.
The small coalition of picketers outside the World Trade Center’s Broadway entrance greeted those trying to park in the center’s lot with signs denouncing recent developments they claim have displaced Long Beach residents and chants to supplement their signage.
“Gay, straight, black, white, housing is a human right,” they shouted as cars passed by, some honking their horns in support.
Andrew Guy, an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America Long Beach chapter, said that the recent trend in the downtown area has seen people being pushed out by rising rents as developers buy up properties, renovate and raise rents to appeal to young professionals who are moving to Long Beach from other cities. The impetus to pick this particular conference, Guy said, was the language used in a press release by the organization hosting the event that labeled the city as an investment opportunity with “evolving” residents.
“We don’t need to evolve, we’re human beings,” Guy said. “Long Beach is not an investment opportunity, it’s our home.”
The event was hosted by BisNow which identifies itself as a digital media and education company that caters to commercial real estate professionals including architects, investors and developers. A representative from the company was reached by telephone but they were unable to comment on the protest or the event for the record.
Housing organizers in Long Beach have put steady pressure on city leaders for a number of years to enact reforms to city policies, an effort that has become more robust recently as rents have continued to creep up and vacancy rates have sunk to the low single digits.
Jorge Rivera, a community organizer with LiBRE (Long Beach Residents Empowered) has been a part of that struggle for about five years. He said that while the organizations he’s worked for have historically advocated on behalf for lower-income families who often had limited English speaking abilities the new crop of advocates that have taken interest in housing issues reflects the growing problem in Long Beach.
“Whether you’re in the lower-income category or you’re in the middle-income category, millennial types, the cost of housing and the cost of living in general keeps going up,” Rivera said. “Even folks that are living in Belmont Shore that might be able to afford their rents a little bit more comfortably, nobody wants to see their rent go up, two to three hundred dollars per month.”
Rents in the city have increased steadily over the past year, a trend reflected in a market analysis put out by Apartment List earlier this month. Since June 2016, rents in Long Beach have increased by 4.8 percent outpacing both the state and national rates during the same time frame. The online apartment search engine showed the median rent in the city to be about $1,340 for a one-bedroom and $1,720 for a two-bedroom unit.
Last week, the Los Angeles County homeless count was revealed and showed a 23 percent increase in the number of homeless persons in the county over the last year. While Long Beach had previously reported its own numbers—the city showed a 21 percent decrease over 2015—both county and city officials recognized that the homeless issue may be tied to the rising cost of living in the region.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said that weak housing and rent control regulations had made the county one of the most unaffordable places to live in the United States. Mayor Robert Garcia noted the statewide housing crisis—one that has been estimated to be about one million units short to satisfy California’s affordable housing needs—is something that needs to continue to be addressed.
Housing groups like Rivera’s and others in the continuously growing coalition of housing and renters’ rights advocates have pushed for reform in the city with varying success.
The Long Beach City Council recently adopted affordable housing recommendations and in previous years codified a proactive rental housing inspection program to better deal with code enforcement issues experienced by some residents of multi-family structures, both with community organizations at the bargaining table prior to the vote.
However, other efforts to get the city council to vote on larger more controversial issues like just-cause eviction, credit check fees and a rent escrow account program aimed at forcing bad landlords to comply with city livability laws have fallen short.
Both Guy and Rivera said their coalition would continue to work with the city council whenever possible to enact changes that could positively affect Long Beach residents in danger of being forced out during the current real estate climate in the city, but also said that they have allocated resources and energy to state level efforts, also hinting at achieving reform in Long Beach via the ballot box.
Still, optimism is running high with these groups. Even at 7:30AM on a Thursday.
“I see a lot of great things happening quicker than a lot of people I think would’ve anticipated two or three years ago,” Rivera said. “I see the movement growing and building momentum a lot faster just in the last year that I’ve been organizing and I’m very hopeful of what might come, even in 2018.”