Tenant rights groups say holes exist in relocation assistance proposal

Advocates working to improve conditions for Long Beach renters are concerned over how the City Council will vote on a potential relocation assistance package and the impact the perceived gaps in the policy could have in the future.

It was announced earlier this week that the council would finally hear a report that had been working its way to the council since late last year.

The city published a 222-page report that outlined what other cities in the state have done to help renters stay in their homes as well as the process involved, including meetings between tenant advocates and property owners. This led to Long Beach city staff recommendations that could shape a future ordinance.

City staff is recommending that relocation assistance apply to renters who live in buildings with four or more rental units and qualify as low income which has been defined as 120 percent of the area median income. That means $58,200 for a one-person household, and $83,150 for a four-person household, according to the city.

In order to get relocation assistance tenants would have had to have been forced out of their homes by a number of things including excessive rent increases or having been issued a notice to vacate the unit even though the tenant had not violated terms of the lease.

https://lbpost.com/business/city-to-consider-tenant-relocation-assistance-for-displaced-renters/

This option would also tie the amount of relocation assistance paid by landlords to tenants to the average rents paid in specific zip codes. This formula could lead to residents in different parts of the city reviewing potentially dramatic differences in the amount of relocation funds.

A resident living in a one-bedroom apartment in the 90803 zip code, which includes Belmont Shore and Naples, would be eligible for over $3,800 in assistance according to current figures included in the report. A renter of a one-bedroom apartment in the 90810 zip code, which includes parts of North Long Beach west of the 710 Freeway, would be eligible for about $2,400.

Susanne Browne, a senior attorney with Legal Aid Foundation Los Angeles, a firm working with the Long Beach Forward coalition advocating for stronger tenant protections said there are many areas for concern in the future ordinance if it goes ahead as recommended by city staff.

“If the city adopts a robust and meaningful relocation assistance ordinance it could help prevent homelessness and keep people in their homes,” Browne said. “If it’s weak, it could be that it’s just putting a price on how much landlords have to pay people to move.”

Browne said that in using the zip-code based formula to generate how much a landlord should have to pay tenants to relocate, the city would be creating an equity issue where renters in more affluent parts of town could get more assistance than those living elsewhere in the city. She also said that all renters, regardless of the number of rental units in their building, should be protected under the ordinance.

The recommended option, Browne said, fails to protect renters who live in buildings with less than four units like duplexes, triplexes and single-family homes. That the staff report states that “little administration” from the city would be needed to execute the ordinance is troubling to Browne who said that it could put landlords in control of determining which of their residents qualify for tenant relocation assistance.

A request to the city to clarify what role it would play in administering and enforcing a future ordinance was not returned at the time of publication.

Browne and Long Beach Forward are advocating for another option included in the report to be adopted by the council for the upcoming ordinance.

Option 1 in the report would provide $4,500 in base relocation assistance with an additional $1,000 for moving costs. Seniors and those with disabilities would qualify for an additional $2,000 in support. The assistance would apply to all units in the city and for all households regardless of income level or property location, something that would eliminate a lot of the disparities contained in other options, Browne said.

“The city is going to have to pick,” Browne said. “If they want something more complicated they’re going to have to provide monitoring.”

The discussion preceding any vote is likely to be divisive as tenant rights advocates and property owners descend on city hall to argue their sides of the issue. While tenants say more should be done and see the relocation assistance ordinance as a stepping stone toward a more meaningful framework to protect renters, property owners and their allies say it could be damaging to recent development successes in the city over the past several years.

https://lbpost.com/commentary/tenant-relocation-policies-are-they-good-for-both-sides/

“It is an exciting time in our city, although we have to be careful that we don’t enact damaging policies that would threaten this economic boom,” Mike Murchison, a consultant for landlords in the city wrote in an opinion piece in The Post this week. “These proposed rent control policy recommendations would do just that.”

Leading into Tuesday’s meeting, support for the item was divided among members of the council.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo, who represents East Long Beach, an area of town that has numerous triplexes and duplexes that would be exempted under the staff recommendation, said that she’d like to see a trial run of the program enacted before anything long-term is codified. She said that doing so would allow the City Council to better understand the impact of the policy.

“I understand the need to support renters, I think that it’s important to give property owners the option to opt into this system,” Mungo said. “They currently have agreements in place between them and a tenant and it’s difficult for me to see the government come in and add rules to an agreement that two parties have already agreed to. That’s where I have a challenge right now.”

Other members appear more open to supporting the recommendation but are similarly cautious in wanting to avoid negatively impacting small-scale landlords while simultaneously trying to reign in the mass displacement that has occurred in some parts of the city.

“A tenant is a tenant whether you live in a large apartment building or a small apartment building,” said City Councilman Rex Richardson. “If the goal is to provide support to tenants then that’s what we should be doing as broadly as possible. But what I want to do is make sure that through this process we lift up the mom-and-pop property owners.”

Richardson added that he’s open to more clearly defining what mom-and-pop operators are, something Browne says should be tied to the number of units owned in the city overall rather than the number of units in a given building.

North Long Beach is undergoing a substantial urban revival with empty lots turned into shopping centers and perceptions of the area as being unsafe changing. But with progress and shiny new developments comes the draw of developers and real estate speculators. Richardson understands that he’s in a unique position to put in place measures to protect renters in his district before the waves of displacement that have upended portions of downtown and the coast make their way north.

“This is smart to support this because we’re making investments in North Long Beach,” Richardson said. “Maybe some of these protections should have been in place before the downtown plan was implemented, who knows? But the conversation is here now and I think it’s the responsible thing to do.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with the correct income threshold for relocation assistance.

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