Long Beach could adopt inclusionary housing mandates but advocates question who will benefit most

An effort to bring an inclusionary housing ordinance to Long Beach could end Tuesday night when the City Council will consider adopting a policy that has been in the works for three years.

The policy would require new housing developments, whether rental or ownership properties, to have a portion of units set aside for certain household income levels from moderate earners to very-low income households.

Under the recommended policy, in a new development of rental properties, a total of 12% of units would have to be set aside, with a quarter of those being reserved low and very-low income households and half for moderate income households.

For new ownership developments, 10% of units would have to be reserved for moderate income households.

If adopted, the policy would go into effect in a phased-in approach starting in January, however, any projects with completed applications for entitlement already submitted would not be subject to the policy.

The covenants for those projects would last 55 years and the policy would be subject to revision every five years.

Housing advocates have been critical of the proposed plans for a number of reasons including the fact that the proposed ordinance would only apply to a small portion of the city including downtown and a strip of land extending from the shoreline in downtown up Long Beach Boulevard to about Wardlow Road.

In an April letter to the City Council from a coalition of community groups including Housing Long Beach, Long Beach Forward and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, they argued that having a policy only apply to one part of the city could lead to predatory development in unaffected areas like north and west Long Beach where low-income households reside in older housing units.

The groups were also critical of the phased-in approach proposed by city staff. Under that schedule both the housing and rental set-aside requirements wouldn’t be met in full until 2024.

“We are pleased the City is considering an inclusionary housing policy and hope to see it adopted on Tuesday, however, details matter,” said Susanne Browne, a senior attorney with the legal aid foundation. “Long Beach needs a City-wide mandatory inclusionary policy that targets rental units to those most in need, a policy that does not displace existing lower-income residents, and a policy that goes into full force immediately without a four year phase in period.”

Browne said the city’s policy should target those most in need; very-low income households. They oppose moderate income households being part of the rental set-asides.

Other cities in the region have inclusionary policies in place already. Los Angeles has policies attached to certain development districts and allows developers building in areas without policies in place to tap into density bonus incentives that allow projects to be built bigger so long that some of the additional units are set aside for lower income households.

Like other cities, Long Beach’s policy could include alternate means for developers to comply with it like fees being paid in place of integrating affordable units into the overall development, or potential offsite development of the affordable units for projects under 20 units.

The housing needs for Long Beach are significant. The Southern California Association of Governments periodically assesses the need for local housing in a state-mandated review known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA).

A recent RHNA review pegged Long Beach’s low and very-low income housing needs at over 4,000 units through 2019. The city thus far has already permitted around 650 of those units.

Updated RHNA numbers that have yet to be adopted by SCAG actually put those housing needs for the same three categories at over 15,000 units.

Long Beach Councilman Rex Richardson, who also is president of SCAG, said that the inclusionary housing policy proposal before the council Tuesday is just one tool the city has to address lower-income housing needs in the city. He pointed to the recently adopted land use element that allowed for the development of thousands of other units across the city.

But addressing the city’s housing needs is a real issue he said.

“COVID-19 has absolutely magnified the inequities and the challenges that regular families face,” Richardson said. “That’s just the truth of the matter. Folks who may have been struggling before, it’s a whole different conversation now.”

Richardson said he was not concerned with the city being divided up into two zones with the larger part of the city not being subject to the proposed policy. However, he didn’t rule that option out saying that the city needed to further study how incentives could be used to mandate affordable units citywide.

“If you don’t have that and it’s just the market then we should should look at what the market has produced,” Richardson said, rebuffing the notion that the policy could lead to predatory development in low-income communities. “We don’t have developers beating down the door to develop in North Long Beach.”

The council is scheduled to consider the policy at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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