At the request of the Long Beach Downtown Development Corporation, a nonprofit established by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance, Los Angeles-based Beacon Economics conducted a study on the future housing needs of the city. Beacon found that just over 75,000 new housing units will be needed to keep up with job growth in the city. The study was a means to evaluate the accuracy of the city’s own estimates based on state requirements and projected population growth, according to economist and Beacon Executive Director of Research Robert Kleinhenz.
“We were asked to take a look at the city’s estimate of housing needs through 2040,” Kleinhenz said. “We felt as though the number that the city had produced was a solid number. We followed their methodology and arrived at roughly the same number six years hence. Based on comparing the two numbers, it showed that maybe there was a little bit of improvement.”
The city’s estimates for the number of housing units that must be produced by 2040 to keep up with population growth is 28,524. This estimate includes 7,048 units specified in the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment and the estimated 21,476 units to alleviate those that are currently overcrowded, which is based on 2010 Decennial Census data.
Beacon, on the other hand, relied on more recent data from the 2016 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and concluded that 26,442 units would be needed by 2040 to match population growth and overcrowding needs. Kleinhenz said that the decrease can be viewed as a positive sign but that Beacon believes this these estimates are the minimum units that would be projected to meet the city’s future housing needs.
“The result, however, is predicated on the assumption of the status quo in terms of population growth, land use, changes in land use, the changes in the amount of housing stock in the community,” Kleinhenz explained. Continuing the job growth trend of the city, which has been 0.7% annually for more than a decade, according to Kleinhenz, through 2040, Beacon projected the number of units needed is actually 75,235.
“This isn’t wage and salary growth; this is resident employment growth. It’s not like we’re building enough housing for everyone who works here, including those who might currently commute. We’re not even touching that issue,” Kleinhenz said. “We’re just saying, if you add enough housing units to accommodate what is expected to be civilian employment growth on the part of the residents of the City of Long Beach, you get that much larger number.”
Kleinhenz explained that these numbers represent the full range of potential growth paths at the most extreme levels. What was not taken into consideration in Beacon’s study were submarket breakdowns such as senior and veteran housing needs.
The housing study also focused on issues that may impact the future development of units, namely the forthcoming and highly controversial Land Use Element (LUE) maps, which lay out new PlaceType zoning and building height limitations citywide. The maps have gone through several iterations, numerous public meetings and heated debates before the most recent version was released in January. The Long Beach City Council is considering the LUE during its meeting on March 6.
“There is an increase to the amount of space allocated for single-family homes, which I get, because it’s a suburban kind of lifestyle that Long Beach offers its residents,” Kleinhenz said. “But it also, at the same time, calls for a reduced level of low-density multifamily housing.”
Beacon’s report indicates that, compared to the current LUE (which has not been updated since 1989), the current proposal increases single-family residential zoning 4,294 acres. High-density multifamily zoning is increased 574 acres, while low-density multifamily zoning is decreased by 966 acres. These shifts will exacerbate the housing shortage by driving rents higher, pushing vulnerable residents out of the city and ultimately stifling economic growth, according to the report.
Beacon compared percentages of the three types of residential zones in Long Beach with San Diego and Oakland. The comparison showed that, while Long Beach allocates similar amounts of land to housing, particularly single-family and low-density multifamily, the city is severely lacking in high-density multifamily space. While San Diego and Oakland allocate 6.17% and 12.05% of land, respectively, to high-density multifamily zoning, Long Beach sits at 0.02%.
“The option, really, is to go up. We have to look at the possibility of adding another floor to buildings on some of these commercial corridors,” Kleinhenz said. “We’re not talking about turning Long Beach into Los Angeles or Manhattan; that is not at all the case. Just modest changes to the Land Use Element would probably accommodate the future growth needs of the city.”
However, modest changes or not, many Long Beach residents, particularly in Districts 4 and 5 are vehemently opposed to the LUE as proposed. As these districts are predominantly filled with single-family residences, the LUE proposes multi-use developments at the few commercial corridors in those districts. Residents argue that buildings above two stories and denser housing would decrease home values and quality of life in those areas.
“The city is going to have population growth regardless,” Kleinhenz said. “The city is going to grow as an economy and add jobs. Based on those two growth trajectories, trying to avoid the issue of meeting the housing [need] that corresponds to that population and job growth is not really a viable approach. The city and its residents have to figure out what is going to work for all of the stakeholders in terms of meeting the future housing needs of the community.