It’s time for a new focus on housing and homelessness

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Long Beach City Councilman and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

This week, I, along with four other members of the Long Beach City Council, will be sworn in for a second term. This is a period that allows us to reflect on our accomplishments and take an accounting of the challenges that require more attention.

Together, over the last four years, we’ve worked to change the culture of City Hall to be smarter, more equitable and more responsive to the needs of our neighborhoods and families. These are achievements that we should be proud of.

And while I’m proud of our progress, we should be honest with ourselves about a crisis that deserves a greater response from our city and our community:  It is time that we address the proverbial elephant in the room and set out to solve our housing and homelessness crisis.

Cities across our state are feeling the effects of California’s housing crisis. It affects millennials who graduate from college and then boomerang back into living with their parents. It affects families, who despite their best efforts, can’t save enough for a down payment as housing prices skyrocket. It affects seniors living on a fixed income who can’t afford to stay in the home where they raised their family. It affects people who has lost a job or faced a health crisis that forces them to get behind on rent and face homelessness.

Far too many of our residents are on the brink of homelessness. In January 2018, our city had 1,863 individuals living on our streets but we know as many as 4,000 will fall in and out of homelessness throughout the year. We know that the main causes of homelessness are loss of jobs and insufficient income, increasing rents, breakdown in family dynamics and domestic violence and physical and behavioral health issues.

More than 21,000 households (nearly 58,700 people) are precariously housed – meaning that their household income is only 30 percent of area median incomes (approximately $16,545 for a household), or they pay more than 90 percent of their income for housing.  We cannot stem the tide of homelessness without addressing these issues through a robust prevention strategy and funding, including training and employment opportunities, strengthening family dynamics, reducing domestic violence and ensuring greater access and connection to physical and behavioral health services.

Our city and our service providers deserve some credit. In the past two years, overall homelessness decreased 21 percent and chronic homelessness reduced by 26 percent. Because of collaboration and strategic partnerships between the city and community organizations, Long Beach’s Continuum of Care is the only program that has seen a reduction in homelessness in Southern California.

However, issues with affordability and availability of housing continues to persist. Nearly 20 percent of our residents live in poverty and our city has a median income of $55,151. When our median home value in Long Beach is $448,800, a dream of home ownership is out of reach for a great majority in our city.

And the development of affordable housing in Long Beach has not kept pace with demand. For example, 221,901 (47 percent) of existing Long Beach residents are cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage.  56,883 (12.2 percent) of existing residents live in overcrowded conditions. And, in fact, accounting for population growth, an astounding 28,524 additional units are needed by 2040 if we are to meet our goals to house those individuals and families in need.

And, since the 2013 loss of Redevelopment in California, Long Beach has no dedicated local source of revenue to support and promote the development of affordable housing in our city. This is one of the chief barriers to ensuring that we have the ability to address the needs of our various communities.

As we embark on a new City Council term, we have an opportunity to set a bold agenda and solve big problems.

We can and should do more and act immediately. Our city should pursue innovative ideas and inventive approaches to homelessness and housing affordability. If we do this right, we can become the model for other cities across the country to follow.

I’m inviting you to join us at our City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 24 to learn how you can support our city’s efforts in identifying new revenue options to address the homelessness and housing crisis. We want to hear your ideas on how we can best lift people out of homelessness and into secure housing.

Together, we can work toward impactful solutions that help welcome everyone home in Long Beach.

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