Over the next couple of years, Long Beach could continue to see rent increases, according to a new report from USC’s Lusk Center for Real Estate.

In Long Beach, where 60% of residents are renters, vacancies have dipped to under 5%, a trend that is mirrored in Los Angeles County, as well as Orange County, San Diego County, and the Inland Empire.

“The biggest driver of rents next quarter is vacancy in the previous quarter, so when vacancy is low, rents go up,” said Richard Green, director of the Lusk Center and co-author of the annual report, which was released earlier this month.

At the beginning of the pandemic, apartment rental prices barely moved, until 2021 and into 2022, when rents began to sharply increase, Green said.

Many Long Beach ZIP codes saw increases of 5% throughout 2021, and ZIP codes in West Long Beach in particular have experienced the largest increases over the past few years.

High inflation is a significant factor in the projected increases, which the report forecasts will happen more quickly than was typically seen prior to the pandemic.

“We expect rents to go up—maybe not quite as much as inflation—but still to go up in the next couple of years, and we’re looking at 5 or 6% in Long Beach per year over the next couple of years,” he said.

The report, though, did contain some caveats. Green noted that it can be difficult to truly assess potential outcomes based on the past two years, which have been unlike any other years in history, he said.

Contributing factors noted in the report also include the significant levels of outmigration from Long Beach and Los Angeles County, mostly consisting of lower-wage earners who relocated to more affordable locations such as Arizona and Nevada, Green said.

While outmigration has led to rapid growth in per capita personal income in the Los Angeles area, which has retained and attracted higher-earning workers, it is unknown if this trend of outmigration could continue in the coming years, and what the impact could be on the current and future forecasts.

“Long Beach, in some ways, is a microcosm of the region in terms of the demographics, the income inequality—Long Beach has some very wealthy areas like Naples, and not very wealthy areas,” Green said. “If you go back 30 years, people would call it a pretty affordable community, and I don’t know if you could call it that anymore . . . Just like in other Southern California cities, (the trend of climbing rental prices) creates a real challenge from a quality-of-life perspective.”

Nationally, median rent rose over 19% from December 2020 to December 2021 in the 50 largest metro areas, according to a Realtor.com assessment of properties with two or fewer bedrooms.

In Long Beach, the median rental price is currently $2,195—an increase of $200 since last year, according to Zillow.

Based on the USC report, LA County’s average rent could rise from $2,187 with a 3.6% vacancy rate, to $2,289 by 2024, with a 4.59% vacancy rate—a 4.66% increase in average rental prices.

While in California, landlords can legally increase rent up to 5% per year plus a percentage change in the cost of living, with a total maximum of a 10% hike, landlords are not required to raise the rent each year, noted Sylvana Uribe, communications director at Long Beach Residents Empowered, or LiBRE, an organization that advocates for tenants.

“Stopping rent increases, or forgiving rent owed during the pandemic or even lowering rent prices to prices that tenants and their families can actually afford would be a great place to start in curbing this crisis and preventing mass evictions and mass displacement,” Uribe said.

LiBRE encourages renters to determine if rent increases they experience are legal, and if it is a case of eviction at no fault of the tenant, to utilize Long Beach’s relocation assistance, which requires landlords to pay either two months of rent or $4,500 to tenants, whichever amount is higher, Uribe said.

But with LA County’s COVID-19 Tenant Protections Resolution expected to end Dec. 31 of this year, many tenants in Long Beach could be left unprotected, Uribe said.

“Now we’re approaching the holidays and possibly facing new surges of COVID-19, it’s not the time to leave folks vulnerable,” Uribe said. “Folks are recovering from the pandemic. They’re trying to get back on their feet. Inflation is at a high and as rents continue to rise, many tenants are not able to afford rent . . . and may have to leave the communities they’ve cultivated.”

Long Beach is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and with rent expected to increase, rates of homelessness could rise along with it, Uribe said.

With the pandemic and subsequent rises in interest rates slowing down development projects, tackling the vacancy rates—and as a result, rising rent prices—will likely take time to combat, Green said.

California is already subject to more complicated and costly development regulations than many other states. While the Greater Los Angeles area, including Orange County, is 70% more populous than both Dallas and Houston, the region builds half as much housing as those cities.

“I will say Long Beach does seem much more open to doing the kind of development that’s necessary in order to ultimately lead to some relief on the rental side, but that impact will not be felt for some time,” Green said.

However, housing advocates such as Uribe remain concerned about the types of development projects that the city takes on, and whether or not they will really serve the existing low-income families that are in need of affordable housing.

“We’re seeing a lot of high rises and a lot of luxury apartments getting built particularly in the Downtown area,” Uribe said. “At times, there’s a promise of a certain number or percentage of units that will be reserved and affordable, but the definition of affordability keeps changing.”

For instance, affordability is sometimes determined by the median income of the area, but when wealthier populations move into these luxury apartments, the median income goes up, Uribe said.

“That would be something that has to be examined in the development in these buildings,” Uribe said.

As rent prices rise and Long Beach continues to grapple with a decreasing sense of affordability, members of LiBRE plan to examine how the city budget could include allocations for programs that provide legal support to renters. LiBRE members are also currently working on a mapping project outlining the increasing lack of affordability in Long Beach, with hopes of seeing change from city officials, Uribe said.

“We’re really fearful of how that’s going to change the makeup of our city in terms of people having to move out of the city, being pushed out of their communities, or unfortunately becoming homeless,” Uribe said.

The organization is also looking into introducing the city’s first community land trust—a model meant to stabilize neighborhoods while creating a path for low-income and marginalized communities to become homeowners and keep affordable units in place.

While there are cities exploring rent freezes or rent control, housing advocates unsuccessfully attempted to get a rent control measure on the ballot in Long Beach in 2018.

“We are definitely studying up on the lessons from that,” Uribe said. “This would be an effort that would require an immense amount of people power, and also a collaboration with elected officials, to kind of hear the pleas of their constituents who want to continue living, working and being part of the fabric of Long Beach . . . At the end of the day, it starts with affordability and making sure that we can actually keep them in their homes.”