Since February, a new community group has been in strategic planning mode, and as of late August, it has revealed itself to the public in the form of Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE).
The new group is diving head first into discussions surrounding housing in the city, joining other groups such as Housing Long Beach (HLB), a tenants advocacy group, and Better Housing for Long Beach (BHFLB), a nonprofit comprised of property owners, realtors and tenants.
Jorge Rivera, far left, of the new tenant advocacy group Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE) sits with tenants who were recently served eviction notices for their building located at 446 Linden Ave. On September 9, tenants of the 20-unit property were notified of the building’s change in ownership after it was sold for $1.85 million. On September 12, according to Rivera, residents were issued a 60-day notice to vacate the premises. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)
“We haven’t solidified what the direction of the organization is going to be or what the campaign is going to focus on,” Jorge Rivera, an organizer for LiBRE, said. “Since we just finished our strategic plan, we are just beginning those discussions as to what exactly we want to go after, what we want to talk about, what we want to target. I think all of that will unfold in the coming months.”
Before LiBRE, Rivera was part of the HLB camp, so it is no surprise that the new organization’s ideals more closely align with Housing Long Beach rather than BHFLB. A key difference between the groups is LiBRE’s proclamation of support for rent control in the city, an issue that Housing Long Beach continues to keep at arm’s length and BHFLB believes would destroy the rental property market for owners and tenants alike.
Josh Butler, the executive director of Housing Long Beach, said that his organization “is in full support of LiBRE, their mission and their leadership” but that HLB has still not discussed supporting rent control. Instead, Butler said his group has its full concentration on combatting displacement through its Responsible Renters Ordinance.
Because of Rivera’s past affiliations, Nancy Ahlswede of BHFLB thinks the group might be a splinter group of Housing Long Beach, stating that in the past she has experienced similar situations where nonprofits will branch out and apply for the same grants or act as the “radical arm” of a group trying to keep its own hands clean. However, Ahlswede said it is too early to tell much of anything regarding LiBRE.
“I think people need to watch and see what they do and what their affiliations are because it will make a huge difference to the political landscape and what Housing Long Beach does as well,” Ahlswede said.
Rivera cited other key issues similar to HLB, including the need for tenant protections against landlord retaliation, addressing landlords whose buildings suffer habitability issues, displacement and a severe lack of affordable housing in the city.
“In the short term, the city needs to declare that there’s a crisis going on when it comes to displacement and habitability issues,” Rivera said. “We’ve been talking about habitability issues and code enforcement, which is where PRHIP [the Proactive Rental Housing Inspection Program] comes in.”
Rivera recalled his days with HLB and the group’s push for a Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP) in Long Beach. This push ultimately led to the codification of regulations into the current PRHIP program, which HLB saw as a slight victory and BHFLB now actively opposes.
“I know that Better Housing for Long Beach talks about how it’s a destructive program and that it adds cost that will be passed onto the renters, but, I mean, it’s been around for about 14 years, so it’s nothing new,” Rivera said. “Our position when we were advocating for REAP still maintains with the PRHIP program: If the landlords are taking care of their property and they are acting in good faith, as they purport they are, then the PRHIP program should pose no threat.”
However, Rivera does acknowledge that the program should first focus on neglectful and negligent landlords. He said inspections should begin in areas that are impacted most, namely Central, West and North Long Beach. He also said it is difficult to discuss the efficacy of the code enforcement program because there hasn’t been an extensive update report from the city.
Regarding the city council’s decision to not include an inspection fee increase for landlords in the recently approved budget, Rivera said he is “not thrilled,” as the increase in funds could have lead to more code enforcement improvements. He said he also thinks the PRHIP program needs more data collection measures and needs to make code inspection reports more readily available to the public, as opposed to having to file a public records request.
“Technically, they are all businesses. That’s kind of how we feel about it,” Rivera said. “Any other business that had a health or safety code violation would get shut down. If it’s a restaurant that had infestations, it’d get shut down. So if these are business owners and they want to be treated like business owners, why not treat them the same way?”
Though in its infancy, LiBRE has already sponsored a bus tour, which took the press and residents around the city to discuss prevalent housing issues. The tour took place on September 22, coinciding with the National Renters’ Day of Action, and escorted about 30 riders to various parts of the city, mainly through downtown and midtown. Members of LiBRE also spoke at Mayor Robert Garcia’s recent Housing Resource Fair and Community Forum at the Jenny Oropeza Community Center on September 24.
LiBRE is hoping to begin hosting two monthly meetings this month – one in North Long Beach and one in Central Long Beach. In November, the group would also like to commence renters’ rights training workshops to help educate renters on their rights as well as their responsibilities. Rivera said that not all living issues are the fault of landlords and that tenants must take proper care of their living spaces and communicate with landlords. He said that knowing the lines between landlord and tenant responsibilities is key to a safe and healthy living environment.
“We believe that whatever solutions are actually drawn up need to come from the residents themselves. They’re the ones that are being impacted directly,” Rivera said. “We truly believe in the bottom-up approach. So we’re going to listen to what it is they are looking for, what they need, and we’re going to develop and design our campaigns around those things.”
Currently, LiBRE consists of about 17 residents and 13 organizational allies, who hope that number will grow as they begin to take stands on issues and promote themselves more. The group is all volunteer based and is currently researching grants to procure a location and a “training site.”
For more information about the three groups, please visit the following sites:
• LBRE (Long Beach Residents Empowered) – facebook.com/weareLBRE or follow them on Twitter and Instagram @weareLBRE.
• HLB – www.housinglb.org
• BHFLB – www.betterhousingforlongbeach.com.