As Suburbanites Insist on Little Future Development, Economic Report Shows Lack of Housing in Long Beach Could Spur Displacement, Gentrification

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Photo by Matt Mesin/SCNG. Charts courtesy of Beacon Economics.

“It makes no sense to turn our suburbs into city centers, or flip our well-thought and designed single-family neighborhoods into apartments and high rises, when such development is better suited and better served elsewhere.”

These are the words of Long Beach’s 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo as she gears up for reelection—and there are many, many concerns with this type of thought, mainly that is misdirects the core of the issue: housing, making more of it, increasing affordability, and knowing how to discuss it without politicizing it.

In contrast, here is how economist Robert Kleinhenz of Beacon Economics frames the housing conversation in Long Beach: “We’re talking about Long Beach residents. We’re talking about the children of Long Beach residents and their ability to find housing in a community that they love. We’re talking about older members of the community being priced out.”

Emphasized throughout his report for the Downtown Development Corporation, the 501-(c)(3) extension of the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, Kleinhenz discusses a housing crisis that reflects the region and statewide housing crises: a lack of building housing, largely led by bad policy and a growing opposition from older populations,

Perhaps most perturbing is that Kleinhenz is most concerned with previous projections on future housing needs in the city—and by concerned, I mean he outright disagrees with the numbers.

According to his report, City officials have been claiming that Long Beach needs 28,500 units by 2040 to keep up with demand while decreasing overcrowding; this is based on Southern California Association of Governments’ Regional Housing Need Allocation plan that was approved in 2012. However, they are focusing solely on population growth instead of also including job growth.

Adding that little tidbit on the end—job growth? Our housing supply needs balloon to 75,200 units.

Additionally, from 2010 to 2017, housing vacancy rate in Long Beach dropped from 7.1% to 5.8%; when Kleinhenz took American Community Survey results into account, the numbers dropped from 9.1% to 4.6%, whereas that of LA County stayed about the same during the same period. This is despite household population growth in Long Beach lagging behind that of LA County.

Even worse, Long Beach has actually lost housing units while the county has overall increased: for every new household, 2.37 units were lost.

How does Long Beach compare to Oakland, which share similar populations and amount of renters. Long Beach is more overcrowded, with over 12% of households having more occupants than designated compared to Oakland’s 10% overcrowded rate. The amount of land dedicated to residential use in Oakland is 43%. Long Beach? 39.3%. And when it comes to high-density residential use, Long Beach has a paltry .02% while Oakland boasts of 12.05%. (That last tidbit is important: increased density in Long Beach has made it more accessible for its citizens.)

The result is not only an exacerbation of the housing crisis but fueled misinformation about what we have and where we need to go.

NIMBYs have railed against the Land Use Element (LUE) update and housing in general, often claiming that Long Beach is “booming” with development much too fast, much too compulsively, with little to no thought about the consequences—but the numbers don’t show a “boom” at all:

Over half of all housing in Long Beach was built before 1960. And that leads to less families living here:

And that leads to more people living with non-family members which leads to overcrowding in order to afford rising costs. In other words: the most marginalized populations, particularly the poor and senior populations, are likely to be displaced while the wealthier move into neighborhoods they typically wouldn’t have, fueling gentrification.

And don’t think this all isn’t intimately attached to the discussion surrounding the LUE.

“The newest proposed changes to the LUE based on the maps released on January 18, 2018 display a problematic use of land in Long Beach,” Kleinhenz wrote. “Despite more land area proposed to be rezoned for residential uses, single-family homes will take more than a lion’s share of the added land area. Furthermore, the increase in residential land use areas will come at the expense of drastically reduced land areas for commercial and industrial spaces.”

With all this hellfire and brimstone, are there solutions? Of course there are.

The report breaks down massive policy change, including the need to:

  • Encourage mixed income housing through adoption of an inclusionary housing policy and establishment of incentives for developers. Subsidize or mandate mixed income housing through inclusionary zoning program, or payment of adequate “in lieu” fees.
  • Encourage the project-basing of Section 8 vouchers for supportive housing developments.
  • Support CEQA reform, including and particularly litigation abuse.
  • Reduce parking requirements, which affects both renters and buyers, specifically those who are in the lower income bracket.

We’re talking about humans, Long Beach. We’re talking about roofs for those humans. It’s really as simple as that.

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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