Several members of what is now the Long Beach-based nonprofit organization Better Housing for Long Beach (BHFLB), initially approved of the city’s Proactive Rental Housing Inspection Program (PRHIP). Now, with more understanding of the ordinance’s impacts, they have become vocal opponents, continuing to fight it with new concerns following a recent city council meeting.

 

On June 2, 2015, during a Long Beach City Council meeting, several of the BHFLB organizers spoke on behalf of the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities (AACSC) in support of the proposed ordinance.

 

Paul Bonner, association president at the time, said the program was balanced and that in the interest of the city the inspections should continue. Malcolm Bennett, a former association president who now opposes the program, said he welcomed the program and fully supported it. Even Elaine Hutchison, co-founder of BHFLB, said to the council, “We urge your support and passage of the proposed ordinance before you. We hope that the passage of this ordinance . . . opens the door to greater collaboration.”

Apartment Building At 360 Lime Ave. Sold For $7.45 Million

A 42-unit apartment building at 360 Lime Ave. in downtown’s East Village area has sold for $7.45 million, according to the CBRE Group, Inc. The buyer was Waterford Residential, an Orange County-based multifamily investor, which plans to rehab the interior and exterior of the project. It marks the fourth Long Beach multifamily property transaction in the past nine months that CBRE has represented Waterford. “Long Beach has become more and more interesting to investors that may have gotten priced out of other beach cities within Orange County or L.A. County,” said CBRE Vice President Matthew Kipp, who represented Waterford in the transaction. Waterford Residential is a partnership between The Waterford Group and Stillwater Investment Group. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Larry Duncan)

 

In the 16 months since that meeting, PRHIP has divided the community and brought conflict rather than collaboration. Other community organizations, such as the nonprofit tenant advocacy group Housing Long Beach, support the program and even feel the city should do more to protect tenants and help eradicate slumlords.

 

When asked about her change of heart regarding the program, Hutchison said, “I think the reason I was initially so much in favor of it is because I felt that the whole purpose, the main purpose and the focus, was going after slumlords, which give us all a bad name. We were in favor of that because we felt like we too had met with some slumlords and didn’t think that they were representative of who we are. So we were fine with that.”

 

However, Hutchison and Nancy Ahlswede, former executive director of the AACSC, reiterated the group’s recent complaint that the program spends too much time and manpower inspecting good landlords’ buildings when it should focus on the slumlords. BHFLB also thinks the program oversteps its bounds when inspectors cite owners for issues unrelated to habitability and ask tenants for personal information.

 

The Business Journal reached out to Johanna Cunningham, the current executive director of the AACSC, to ask if the association has also changed its position on the Long Beach ordinance. Cunningham’s initial response over the phone was that “the jury is still out on that.” However, in a follow-up e-mail she wrote:

 

“The Apartment Association, California Southern Cities has always supported groups that are working toward the goal of protecting property rights for our owners, landlords and property managers as well as tenant organizations to ensure quality housing. Working with this group is no different. When AACSC became aware of the creation of Better Housing for Long Beach, a number of our members attended their initial meetings. Joanie Weir, the president of the group, is an owner and a member of AACSC and has been directly impacted by the PRHIP ordinance and is passionate about exposing those issues that appear to be beyond the scope of the ordinance’s purpose. There have been a number of our owners who have experienced inspections that went beyond the normal inspection standards. With the program just barely hitting the one-year mark, it is disheartening to hear these stories. So AACSC is approaching this issue from both sides, from working more closely with our city council representatives to inform them of the feedback we are getting from our owners and working with city staff to make suggestions for changes in fees and how best to implement a “Good Landlord” program. AACSC is working hard to stay informed, and we believe that it is important to work with other groups who share our passion for protecting those who are providing housing for our residents. AACSC continues to support the city’s effort to ensure habitability standards for all residents of the City of Long Beach. However, we are opposed to inspections that are surpassing habitability issues and inspectors that are intimidating tenants in an effort to inspect units against the tenant’s desire.”

 

Hutchison confirmed that her group is currently working with the AACSC to “have a joint view.” She said the organization is also working with the Apartment Owners Association, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, numerous realtor associations, as well as veterans and members of the local Cambodian, Hispanic and African American communities.

 

The group admits it will never support the inspection of every property in the city, but its members acknowledge that “the law is the law” and hope to eventually make a presentation to the city to propose amendments to the ordinance to clear up what they consider gray areas.

 

Better Housing for Long Beach’s latest concern regarding the inspection program came up at the August 23 council meeting when Amy Bodek, director of Long Beach Developmental Services, spoke during the fiscal year 2017 budget hearing regarding her department. During her presentation, Bodek discussed a proposed inspection fee increase.

 

“We currently charge $230 to inspect four units through 10 units. Our fee increase that we’re looking for to achieve full cost recovery would go to $254,” Bodek said. “So we’re talking a $24 increase for a property owner that may own a four-unit building or a 10-unit building. So we’re talking very minimal fee increases.”

 

According to BHFLB, property owners already have fire inspection fees, a business license fee and, in some cases, a business improvement district fee. Even though Bodek claimed the increase was to match the already existing cost, BHFLB thinks the nearly 10.5% increase could be for the program to hire more staff and conduct more inspections.

 

In an August 30 interview with the Business Journal, Hutchison said she spoke during public comments after Bodek’s presentation, asking if the increase would be used to hire more personnel, and she did not get a clear response. However, in the video recording of the meeting, in response to Hutchison’s question Bodek said, “Vice mayor and members of the council, the answer to that is no.”

 

The BHFLB group is currently in the planning stages to counter Housing Long Beach’s participation in National Renters Day of Action for Dignity & Respect on September 22 with a renters appreciation month. BHFLB described National Renters Day as “very negative and very anti” and said their event would be more positive. Other cities with groups participating in the renter protest include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Oakland, New York and Nashville.

 

For more information about National Renters Day, contact Housing Long Beach at 562/754-6645. For more information about Better Housing for Long Beach, visit betterhousingforlongbeach.com or attend one of the group’s meetings every Sunday at noon at 2338 E. Anaheim St., Suite 201A.

 

(Editor’s note: property owners and tenants who wishes to share their experiences with the city’s inspection program may e-mail the Staff Writer Brandon Richardson at brandon_richardson@lbbj.com, or call him at 562/988-1222.)

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Brandon Richardson

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Business Journal.