During its February 21 meeting, the Long Beach City Council is scheduled to hold a study session on affordable housing.


According to Patrick Ure, housing development officer at the Long Beach Housing and Community Improvement Bureau, city staff will make a presentation to talk about existing resources and funding for affordable housing; share feedback from housing developers, advocates and the community; and highlight accomplishments from the last 10 years.


Some accomplishments include the city and Long Beach Community Investment Company (LBCIC) assisting in the production of 1,178 affordable units – with 635 additional units in process – and the preservation of over 2,000 more, according to Ure. He said the city also has rehabilitated 367 units and assisted 335 first-time homebuyers.


Despite a decline in federal and state funding for affordable housing, Ure said the city and LBCIC have invested about $143 million in the production, rehabilitation and preservation of units in the last 10 years. Total investment in affordable housing is $542.4 million, when combined with outside funding sources and developer contributions.


“We all know that housing costs are on the rise and resources for developing affordable housing are on the decline,” Ure said. “So we are wanting to have a conversation about how we are going to produce new affordable housing units going forward. It’s up to the council what happens after that.”


Late last year, Mayor Robert Garcia hosted three community meetings with housing developers, advocates and the community to discuss affordable housing issues. Developers discussed current policies and the challenges of producing affordable housing, while advocates and residents expressed the growing need for more units.


The mayor pointed out that the city is required by the state to build affordable housing units each year. He said this study session will be a good opportunity for councilmembers to ask questions as they hear from city staff and members of the community.


“There is a need for quality housing affordability – whether it’s for working families or whether it’s for recent graduates out of Cal State Long Beach,” Garcia said. “We do have, statewide, a major housing crunch, and we need to do a better job of working with first-time homebuyers and ensuring that there’s housing for the community.”


The discussion on affordable housing, including renter and landlord rights, has been ongoing for years and has resulted in the adoption of policy and procedures, such as the Proactive Rental Housing Inspection Program, and the introduction of advocacy groups, such as Housing Long Beach (HLB), Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE) and Better Housing for Long Beach.


Josh Butler, executive director for HLB, is a major proponent of increasing the amount of affordable housing in the city and has worked within the community on behalf of residents to gain more tenant protections and better quality housing. At a recent Human Relations Commission meeting, Butler spoke during public comment regarding a Responsible Renter’s Ordinance, which is a set of protections for tenants proposed by HLB to prevent being unfairly evicted.


Based on his public comment, the commission invited Butler to its February 9 meeting to make a formal presentation on just-cause eviction. According to Butler, the presentation considered the number of residents HLB thinks would be interested in these protections, increasing rents and low vacancy rates in the city.


“We’d like to have [this] conversation with a larger group in the community and look at what other cities have done,” Butler said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to speak to the Long Beach Human Relations Commission. I think this issue is right up their alley.”


Jorge Rivera, a community organizer with LiBRE, said his organization supports additional renter protection measures, such as HLB’s proposed ordinance. However, Rivera said until a draft of the ordinance is produced, his organization cannot comment on whether it fully supports HLB’s proposal.


Recently, when they learned of the sale of their buildings at 87 and 89 Lime Ave., tenants contacted Rivera to discuss habitability concerns and possible eviction notices. The buyer, Mike Dunfee Group, as part of the Downtown Long Beach real estate firm DOMA Properties, has served eviction notices to Long Beach residents in the past in order to renovate a building after purchase.


Rivera explained that the newly formed Lime Avenue Apartments Tenant Association has no legal recourse to fight eviction notices but explained that there are still options.


“There are strategies and tactics that other associations across the state and the nation have used to try to mitigate those impacts and try to negotiate for being able to stay. Negotiating for reasonable rent increases, . . . negotiating for fixed leases for certain terms and considerations, like a gradual rent increase as opposed to one lump sum,” Rivera said. “So using tactics like withholding rent to negotiate for those terms are the things that other associations have been implementing just so that they could fight for the right to stay.”


Rivera said this is a preemptive move, as no eviction notices have been posted at either building. In the meantime, he and the association have begun working toward improving their current quality of life by requesting what they claim are long-overdue repairs and maintenance, including a request for a code enforcement inspection of the property.


Tenants claim they have not had heat throughout these winter months and have only been offered space heaters. As of February 8, three weeks after the requested inspection, Rivera and the association were uncertain if the property owners had been cited by code enforcement for the broken heater.


“It goes without saying, if they are paying rent, they should be living in habitable conditions as per house and safety codes at the very least,” Rivera said. “And if rent goes up, it will no longer be affordable to them, and that will lead to displacement. And there’s always the risk of homelessness if they can’t find another affordable place to rent.”

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