Long Beach is buying a vacant commercial building in the Cal Heights neighborhood that it hopes will be converted into an affordable housing project, which is currently proposed to have 100 units that would be rented out to low-income families.

The building is at the corner of Cerritos Avenue and Wardlow Road next door to the popular Roxanne’s bar and is currently in escrow.

The proposed developer, West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, was awarded up to $7 million from the city in November, but looming deadlines for spending state funds and closing the real estate deal forced the city to step in and buy the property itself.

Long Beach Community Investment Company directors voted unanimously Wednesday to approve spending $5.4 million for the purchase. The move keeps the current project alive and guarantees the parcel will be developed into some form of affordable housing in the future.

Christopher Koontz, the city’s director of Community Development, who also serves as the president of the Community Investment Company, said buying the land will give Long Beach more leverage when approving the project, and it allows the city to spend $2.9 million in state funding before March 1, which is the deadline to spend the funds or return them.

“We will make that deadline. I won’t send that money back to the state,” Koontz told directors Wednesday.

Koontz said buying the site will give the city more power to “get the best project out of the developer,” because Long Beach will be the regulatory power and the land owner.

Currently, West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation is proposing 100 units to be built at the site with a mix of 42 one-bedrooms, 30 two-bedrooms and 28 three-bedrooms, according to a November staff report.

Those units would be available to families with household incomes between 30% and 80% of the area median income. In Los Angeles County, that’s a range of about $37,830 to $100,880 for a family of four, according to the state’s housing and community development department.

If the project goes forward, it would be the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation’s first project in Long Beach, but the corporation has a history of building and preserving affordable housing across Southern California since the 1980s.

It has 22 projects already completed and three more in pre-construction in the cities of LA, Westlake and Palm Springs. The corporation’s projects serve seniors, families, people with special needs, the LGBTQ community and people experiencing homelessness, among others.

If the project falls through, the city could pursue another developer and Meggan Sorensen, the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Services Bureau manager, said there would likely be interest in the location.

“Either way, we own this land in an opportunity area. We’re in a good position, and many developers would like to develop this site,” Sorensen said.

With projects like this, the city is trying to build more affordable housing projects in more affluent neighborhoods, something that can help developers win funding and tax credits. The state also forced the city to make more room for new housing in “high-resource” areas before approving its Housing Element, which outlines the plan for housing development, in 2022.

The Cal Heights neighborhood is ranked as one of the highest resource areas in the city, according to the state.

The purchase of the land will come with a tradeoff, though. Koontz said that some of the funding being used had been earmarked for a different affordable housing project in Downtown at the old Long Beach Armory location.

That proposal included 64 units of senior housing, but after missing out on the previous state funding cycle it will have to wait for city funding.

“We’re still committed to that project, but it’s not going to happen this year,” Koontz said.

Koontz said that a more fleshed-out design for the project on Wardlow Road could be ready by summer.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.