Since ApartmentList.com released a report in February claiming Long Beach’s median rent for one- and two-bedroom units was $1,400 and $2,100 per month, respectively, rental rates have been a hot topic amongst city staff, housing advocates, residents and property owners and managers.
After the report was released, property managers immediately fired back saying rents were much lower, citing data from CoStar Group that showed median rents in the city up to $500 less than ApartmentList’s claim. With so much data being interjected into the topic, city staff was directed to conduct its own research. Ultimately, the research will result in an in-depth report on Long Beach rental rates, which already has a draft version available with convoluted findings.
“Essentially, the numbers were all different,” Patrick Ure, the housing development officer for the city’s housing and community improvement bureau, said. “So we’re not comfortable saying what the real rates are at this point in time.”
The draft report considered data from REIS Inc., a commercial real estate information company; the American Community Survey, which is conducted annually by the United States Census Bureau; Apartments.com and Craigslist.org. The data varies greatly depending on the source, with citywide median rents ranging from $1,122 to $1,863 depending on the source.
According to 2010 census data, Long Beach has a total of 163,531 housing units. Of those units, nearly 60%, approximately 95,582, were renter-occupied. These thousands of rental units are dispersed throughout dozens of individual neighborhoods, each with its own demographics, culture and vibe – some more desirable than others.
In addition to location, some property managers, such as Spencer Pabst, a broker at Pabst, Kinney & Associates, claim there are too many factors at play to have citywide averages in rental rates and that numbers have to be broken down even further – parking, amenities, age of the building, renovations and size of the unit all need to be taken into consideration.
“Different tenants have different amenities that they are looking for, as well as different neighborhoods. For example, the Alamitos Beach area is very parking impacted,” Pabst said. “I know for a fact if you have a one-bedroom there with a garage, you could probably get $200 to $300 more in rent if it has a garage.”
Pabst refutes the ApartmentList numbers and said the website typically showcases newer luxury apartments, while most of the units in the city are owned by individuals, which are not represented in the website’s figures. Additionally, he said apartment management companies that manage thousands of units are also not included in the data. Pabst, Kinney & Associates alone manages 3,200 units in Long Beach, most with rents far below ApartmentList’s claim.
The report by ApartmentList has become a rallying cry for housing advocates, such as Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach. Butler often sites the report, as recently as May 2 in a press release, when discussing increasing rents and the need for renter protections.
Robert Fox, who owns 25 units in Long Beach, has been critical of Butler for citing the ApartmentList report. Fox is part of Better Housing for Long Beach (BHFLB), a community organization composed of property owners and residents, which opposes many of Butler and Housing Long Beach’s goals, such as certain renter protections.
“The implication of what Josh [Butler] is saying is that our rents are just going up at a skyrocketed rate, and this is terrible, and we’re putting people out of apartments left, right and center. And I didn’t find that to be true,” Fox said.
In response to Butler’s use of the ApartmentList report, Fox and BHFLB began reaching out to property owners citywide to compile a list of rental rates separated between one- and two-bedroom rental units. After receiving data on more than 1,000 rental units, Fox said the citywide average rent is around $1,450 per month, with one-bedroom apartment rents being $1,069 overall.
According to Fox, the housing crisis is the result of high demand in the area and an inventory that is not keeping up, which affects people in all levels of income. The issue is only exacerbated by the city’s ever-increasing population, which the U.S. Census Bureau estimated was more than 474,000 in 2015.
“We have all this extra population, and whether it’s poor or rich or whatever, we just didn’t build the housing. That’s the essence of it. If the desire for housing is strong and there’s not enough inventory to satisfy the need citywide, then you have a crisis. And we do.”
Fox said dishonest information being presented to the city council as fact really bothers him. He argues that most sites, such as ApartmentList, Zillow and others, do not offer information based on real data but rather estimations or small samples from their very limited database. He said BHFLB’s rent survey is composed of real data, conveniently broken down by ZIP code.
However, Tony Balasuriya, owner of Terra Bella Property Management, which manages between 600 and 800 units in the city, said Long Beach neighborhoods are so diverse that even breaking rental rates down by ZIP code is not good enough, and citywide averages are impossible.
“That’s not realistic. They are not matching apples to apples,” Balasuriya said. “You can’t take a brand new high-rise condominium or a brand new on-the-ocean one-bedroom that’s renting for $5,000 and throw that into the mix with a regular rental. You simply can’t do that.”
Terra Bella manages condos in the International Tower downtown, which Balasuriya said get top-dollar rents – sometimes up to $2,800 per month. But two blocks away, he said he has a condo renting for more than $1,000 less. Balasuriya also cited the traffic circle area as having higher-end condos on one side and middle-income apartments on the other.
“You cannot lock in one set of numbers for the whole of Long Beach. That would completely skew the perception of who we are and what we are about in Long Beach,” Balasuriya said. “Everybody has a place in Long Beach. I think we have the middle, lower and upper all coexisting. If you don’t have those three properly separated, I don’t think we will be able to accurately look at the rents.”
Ure said he doesn’t think anyone disagrees with the idea that rents are rising but that city staff is uncertain as to how much, how quickly and if increases are consistent citywide. Due to the conflicting data being presented to city staff by others and through research, Ure said the city is moving forward with seeking a professional real estate firm to be contracted to conduct a full, in-depth citywide rental study. He added that no decisions or time frames have yet to be determined regarding the study.
When the study is complete, Ure said city staff would add it to the report on rental rates and present the findings to city council.
“It’s a work in progress. I understand that people are frustrated and concerned about the numbers, and frankly, we are too. We’re not comfortable with the numbers, and that’s why we took it out of the housing report and decided to look at it separately and invest a little bit more time into getting it right.”