Opinion: Richardson played politics on homelessness bond and civility lost out

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 Phil Hawkins, CEO of Pacific West Association of Realtors, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

According to Long Beach City Councilman Rex Richardson during the Jan. 7, 2020 council meeting on his proposed housing bond ballot measure, the vote was merely about a cup of coffee a month, or less than a monthly Netflix bill. Not supporting his “Everyone In” initiative at that amount would be, well, according to him, anything less than democracy minded.

Richardon’s attempt to place a $298 million affordable housing and homeless services bond financed by property taxes on the Nov. 3 ballot ultimately failed in a 5-4 vote.

But if Richardson was really about good governance and empowerment as he asserts, he wouldn’t have tried to railroad through a measure he knew lacked council support in the name of slogans and to undermine his colleagues up for re-election in March. No wonder voters have a higher opinion of root canals, traffic jams and used-car salesmen than politicians.

Attempting to present a September 2017 staff memo as a “now is the time to act” item and ignoring 28 other recommendations on revenue tools and incentives for the production of affordable and workforce housing adopted by the council in May 2017 makes one wonder if Richardson was really paying attention while he was vice mayor.

Raising property taxes to make housing more affordable is the exact opposite of “creating a local economy that includes and benefits every resident.” Contrary to what was stated by some, the December 2019 median sales price of a home in Long Beach was $650,000. Many in the council chamber chanted, “make them [homeowners] pay, they can afford it.” In this case, it would be more like four coffees a month per homeowner, but who’s counting? And our Long Beach leaders wonder why, according to property tax data, there’s only a 38% homeownership rate in the city, 17% less than the state, and why rents are rising for the other 62%.

If we want to talk about equity around the investment in the production of affordable housing and capacity to address homelessness, residents need to know that Richardson’s proposal would have meant a building cost of $463,472 per affordable housing unit to be borne by taxpayers. And no, that doesn’t include homelessness services in the cost. Modeled after the city of Los Angeles’ measure, by 2023 we might have a few more units opening in Long Beach, meanwhile the homeless rate increases by 40% and not one of the roughly 78,000 residents who are “housing cost burdened” have been helped. Where’s the equity in that?

Tuesday’s night meeting was a display of personal attacks, name calling and incivility. Apparently, the quality of being fair and impartial—the definition of equity—is reserved to one point of view. We deserve and expect more from our leaders, and our fellow neighbors, if we truly want Long Beach to flourish and not flounder.

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