As Long Beach enters its second month of a declared emergency for homelessness, city leaders have begun asking other governmental agencies asking for land, services and tens of millions of dollars to help the city respond to its unhoused crisis.
In the past two weeks, Mayor Rex Richardson has sent multiple letters to agencies asking for help. A letter to educational institutions like Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach asked for investments in housing production by potentially using surplus properties and facilities to add to the city’s housing stock.
A letter to the Port of Long Beach asked for surplus land to be offered to build temporary housing and shelter and staffing to help the city’s homelessness response. Richardson asked Long Beach Transit to expand its dial-a-lift services for the unhoused to help transport them to services and housing sites.
Richardson has even sent letters in support of state and federal legislation that could provide up to $1 billion a year nationally for housing with supportive services and case management and continue to exempt motel conversion projects, like the one the city is currently undertaking in North Long Beach, from strenuous environmental review.
But the biggest direct asks have been sent to Los Angels County, which recently approved a $610 million homeless services funding plan. Richardson’s letter asked for better coordination with the county to increase mental health services in the city and even provide transportation to county facilities outside of Long Beach.
He also wants a “more equitable” share of the money the county distributes to its 88 cities. Long Beach currently receives about $13.7 million in Measure H funding, which was established in 2016 by voters who approved the 10-year tax to fund homelessness programs, but Richardson said the city should be getting closer to $25 million.
Measure A and Measure H
The half-cent countywide sales tax known as Measure H has helped the city pay for things like permanent supportive housing, family support and other programs aimed at preventing homelessness and rehousing people who end up on the streets for the past six years.
The tax was projected to generate about $355 million per year for 10 years. Last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a $610 million budget that included $524.5 million in Measure H funds.
Richardson’s letter says that because of Long Beach’s share of the county’s homeless population, it should be entitled to 5% of Measure H funding, or roughly $25 million. Long Beach counted 3,296 people in some state of homelessness in 2022, which indicated a 62% increase since 2020.
However, there is a cap on the amount of sales tax residents can pay, and Long Beach was at the ceiling because of the local Measure A sales tax measure that was also approved by Long Beach voters in 2016. As a result, Long Beach hasn’t paid into the Measure H tax until this fiscal year, after the city lowered the Measure A tax for four years.
Measure A has generated tens of millions annually for the city’s general fund; last year’s year-end total was about $86 million.
The city’s residents will begin to pay into Measure H for the next four years, something that could limit how many programs and projects can be funded by Measure A. When the City Council adopted this year’s budget in September it was projected that Measure A would generate about $67 million, with the decrease due in part to the Measure H contribution.
County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents Long Beach, said in a statement that she would like to see Long Beach get more Measure H funding and would see how the county could make that happen.
“Long Beach has been a great partner in the effort to address the homelessness crisis,” Hahn said. “They have embraced solutions when many other cities haven’t.”
Hahn is expected to meet with Richardson Friday, according to a spokesperson for her office.
Putting things on the county’s radar
Richardson’s requests of the county are many.
His letter calls for county staff to be dedicated to participate in the city’s emergency operations and for the city to similarly allocate staff to be part of the county’s emergency command structure. Both the city and county have declared states of emergency.
He asked the county to purchase a permanent winter shelter in the city. The soon-to-be two winter shelters in the city are temporary, with the sites being fluid on a year-to-year basis.
The letter asks for the county use a new “land bank” pilot program to purchase land in the city that would be reserved for affordable housing. It also asks for the county to provide more mental health resources to the city, something that could be critical to the city’s efforts to address homelessness given its estimation that 1,200 people living on the streets have a severe mental illness.
Tyler Bonanno-Curley, Long Beach’s manager of government affairs, said some of the requests are just to get them on the radar for the county and other government agencies, noting that the city would soon be making requests of the state and federal governments for potential new funding.
“Moving forward, I think that’s kind of our priority,” Bonanno-Curley said of funding. “Not just Measure H, but other funding streams and looking at getting our fair share of funds.”
While the city has just begun paying into Measure H, Bonanno-Curley said the city is also providing services to people who were not Long Beach residents before becoming unhoused.
There are some long-term conversations that will be had, like the request for the county to potentially invest in the Carmelitos housing project in the city, potentially by redeveloping the site, and the ability for the county or LA Metro to buy up surplus land for affordable housing.
Some of the more immediate requests include full funding of the winter shelter sites. A city letter says the Community Hospital site is underfunded by about $12 to $15 per night. The soon-to-open site at Silverado Park could be underfunded by up to $1,200 per night per bed. The site is expected to host about 80 beds through May.
The city is also seeking county funding for its plans to open safe parking sites for people living in recreational vehicles and ongoing costs for motels it’s converted into transitional housing with one-time funding. The sites could cost millions per year once current funding runs out.
It would also like any unspent pandemic relief money to be directed toward the purchase of more modular housing in the city.
Another big issue for Long Beach is its contention that unhoused passengers who ride Metro trains are disembarking in the city, per the transportation system’s “end of the line” policy.
Creating a service hub at or near the Willow Station was discussed by Metro board members last month but nothing is final. The fact that these discussions are taking place is promising and could provide an opportunity for something to be done, Bonanno-Curley said.
“There’s a lot of energy on focusing on solutions,” Bonnanno-Curley said. “I think that energy is going to help us in hopefully drawing down more resources to Long Beach.”