City to consider tenant relocation assistance for displaced renters

The Long Beach City Council next week will consider an ordinance that would require some landlords to pay relocation assistance to tenants forced to move due to rising rents.

The push comes as renters continue to feel the squeeze of record-high housing costs and low vacancy rates. In some Downtown neighborhoods, longtime tenants have been forced out due to triple-digit rent increases, prompting calls for rent control.

While the city works to address the housing crisis, its efforts have stopped short of rent control as leaders try to balance policies for both landlords and tenants.

The ordinance to be considered next week is the result of a year-long study by the city on potential plans to support tenants, senior renters and rental assistance programs. The city released its findings last week in a 222-page report that analyzed 115 other jurisdictions in California.

The City Council will consider several options for implementing a tenant relocation assistance program in Long Beach.

Under the option recommended by city staff, the ordinance would require owners of rental buildings with four or more units to pay relocation assistance to qualified displaced renters.

The amount would be equal to two months’ rent based on Housing Authority Rent Payment Standards for a similar unit in the same ZIP code. Only lower- and moderate-income households would be eligible.

Renters would be qualified for the program if they have received notice of a rent increase of 10 percent or more in any 12-month period.

They also would be eligible if they received notice to vacate, and have paid their rent and have not violated the terms of the lease agreement. Renters who damaged the property or engaged in illegal activity would not be eligible.

Other requirements:

  • Evicted households and tenants vacating voluntarily are not eligible.
  • Tenants receiving a rent increase of 1O percent or more must notify property owner within seven days of their intent to stay or leave with relocation benefits.
  • Rental security deposits must be returned per California law.
  • Owners must include relocation information in lease agreements and must notify the city when an entire building is being vacated.
  • Affordable rent-restricted properties are exempt.

In addition to the tenant relocation assistance, the city is recommending four other policies to support renters:

  • Create a “Seniors First” security deposit assistance program for displaced very low-income senior residents.
  • Create a set-aside of up to 25 Emergency Housing Choice Vouchers for displaced extremely low- and very-low income senior residents.
  • Establish a communication framework with the HUD Public Housing Office, affordable elderly housing, and housing for persons with disabilities providers for rehabilitation opportunities.
  • Include a recommendation in the city’s State Legislative agenda to support an increase to the state’s noticing requirement for a no-fault termination of tenancy to a minimum of 90 days.

Activists on both sides of the issue on Tuesday said they were frustrated with the city’s proposals.

Joani Weir, founder of Better Housing for Long Beach, a group against rent control, said the relocation program unfairly penalizes landlords of smaller properties throughout the city.

“We’re talking about small, mom and pops relying on these properties for retirement, and the city is not taking that into consideration,” she said. “These mom and pops are already struggling.”

Weir said the tenant provisions will ultimately result in higher rents as landlords try to offset costs.

“We are still the most affordable beach community, why would they want to implement programs that push rents sky high?” she said.

Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach, which supports rent control, said he wants to see more tenant protection. The city’s proposal, he said, does nothing to prevent displacement and merely gives renters a cushion to move to another town.

“We went in for tenant protections and the conversation morphed into tenant relocation,” he said. ‘We’re focused on how we can protect Long Beach residents and help them remain in their homes and their communities. This doesn’t even come close.”

The City Council will discuss the issue in its regular meeting at 5 p.m. on April 2 at 333 W. Ocean Blvd.

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].