Long Beach will begin to work with local universities, colleges and school districts to potentially build housing for students, employees and low-income families in the city after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with the plan.

Launching the “Long Beach Housing Promise” was one of the pillars of the agenda that Mayor Rex Richardson announced in January as a way to increase housing accessibility for students and families in the city and to also fight rising rates of homelessness and housing instability.

The issue will move to City Council committees for further discussion while city officials begin to meet with leaders from Cal State Long Beach, Long Beach City College, the Long Beach Unified School District and even Cal State Dominguez Hills about forming partnerships to create more housing.

“This is an opportunity to get to a table and dream a little bit,” Richardson said.

Richardson added that the city’s housing production goal, which is assigned by the Southern California Association of Governments, doesn’t say who has to build it—just that the community needs to produce it. The hope is that school districts and colleges could chip in to help the city meet the 26,502 units it needs to build before 2030.

Cal State Long Beach has student housing on campus, and in 2021 it opened a 472-bed residential hall. However, two planned developments in Downtown, including a 22-story tower that would have included 850 units for students and staff, were canceled in 2020.

Last month, Long Beach City College Superintendent-President Mike Muñoz told the Post that the college is looking at building student housing. The college applied for a $90 million grant to build a 400-unit project near Veterans Stadium and could know if it’s been awarded those funds by the summer.

Muñoz also said that the college is in exploratory talks to build a satellite campus in North Long Beach, which could also include housing units. A proposed $285 million bond measure that the college’s Board of Trustees opted not to put on last year’s ballot is also “not necessarily dead,” Muñoz said.

Those bonds would pay for a rebuild of Veterans Stadium as well as affordable student housing units.

Recent reports have shown that about 12% of Cal State Long Beach students and 10% of LBCC students have reported experiencing homelessness or housing insecurity in the past year. The LBUSD counts about 3,000 homeless students among its enrollees, according to the district’s website.

Long Beach’s role would likely not be monetary, but the city could create zoning that makes it easier to build for educational institutions that are looking to create housing.

Richardson said that it could also mean that the new Downtown Plan, which governs what can be built in the Downtown area, could include space for student housing. City planning officials are early in the process of looking at what changes might be added when the Downtown Plan is reexamined later this year.

The vote to move the plan forward was unanimous, but it didn’t come without some hesitation from some council members who thought that it could hinder other council priorities because Richardson’s request indicated it would require substantial staff time.

Long Beach declared a state of emergency for homelessness in January, and the declaration has pulled some city employees from their normal duties and in some cases required others to juggle multiple responsibilities.

“I think that they should be our front-facing person to make these relationships,” Councilmember Kristina Duggan said of the deputy mayor position that was created earlier this year to deal with housing and homelessness issues. “I feel like staff is spread thin.”

Richardson has yet to appoint a person to that position.

Long Beach’s 2022 homeless count found about 3,300 people in the city were experiencing some state of homelessness, and among them were 38 families with children and 68 total residents under the age of 18.

The city conducted its annual count in January but has not yet released this year’s data. The 2022 count found a 62% increase in people experiencing homelessness in the city since 2020.

The council’s Educational Partnerships and Housing and Public Health Committees will take up the issue in the future. Neither of those committees has announced a date for their first meeting of 2023.

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