On March 20, the Long Beach City Council requested city staff to research a proposed ordinance to establish rent control, a rent board and eviction limitations, asking staff to report back by April 17.
Housing advocates have filed paperwork and are currently gathering signatures to place a rent control ordinance on the November ballot. Councilmembers introduced the item to give residents access to impartial information before any measure is up for a vote.
While councilmembers expressed their own opinions on rent control during the meeting, 4th District Councilmember Daryl Supernaw clarified that the item is “an informational request on a proposed ballot initiative,” and does not involve a council policy decision.
Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin said the housing crisis is not a “black and white issue,” and that it takes a multi-faceted approach to solve the problem. “I’ve been looking at the 15 cities in California that do have rent control, and I’m not convinced it’s a panacea for our housing crisis,” he said. “I was talking to an elected official in San Francisco. They have rent control there, and [the official] said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is close to $4,000 to $5,000 per month. Santa Monica has very high rents, and so do Beverly Hills, Berkeley and West Hollywood. Those are cities that have rent control. The rent in Long Beach is well below [the rent] in those cities.”
Austin suggested focusing more on building more housing and creating jobs. “I don’t think we can wait three, four, five or six years for housing to be developed. It needs to happen now,” he said. “We need to focus on creating great jobs. That’s what’s going to bring the incomes up and that’s what’s going to put people in a better position to afford quality housing.”
Third District Councilmember Suzie Price also shared her reservations regarding rent control. “I don’t believe rent control will be beneficial . . . but I’m one voter,” she said. She added that more than 2,000 units of additional housing are planned in her district over the next 30 years.
Other councilmembers mentioned measures the city has already undertaken to develop more housing. These include passing the Land Use Element, which calls for the construction of 7,048 residential units by 2021. And, according to Lena Gonzalez, who represents the 1st District, Downtown Long Beach has more than 1,700 affordable housing units. Gonzalez also cited the city’s efforts to ensure rental property owners are complying with building, housing and sanitation codes.
“We know that some of the conditions people are living in are below quality of life. It doesn’t speak to all landlords, but it speaks to the very small percent we know can do a lot better,” she said. “In our first year in office, many of us [councilmembers] put together a 120-day [non-compliant] violators list and posted it on the development services website. I’m working to make that more transparent so people know which landlords aren’t playing by the rules when it comes to quality-of-life issues.”
In his closing comments, Mayor Robert Garcia clarified that rent stabilization has existed in the city for about 40 years, and that Long Beach currently has about 6,500 units with stabilized rent. “Every time there’s a new project, we expand the number of rent-stabilized units,” he said. “These units that have existed for decades have covenants. The city has invested millions in keeping them. We’ve voted on putting resources on keeping those rents stable and affordable.”
The Mayor also reiterated that housing production is key to closing the gap. “The single best way to getting out of this crisis, and not just in Long Beach, is housing production. . . . You have to build housing of all types to get us out of where we are right now, which is essentially a math problem: the population has grown, but housing production has not. That’s why you’re seeing these pressures across California and Long Beach.”