Long Beach City Council Discusses Affordable Housing

25 Feb

Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 21, before Study Session on Affordable Housing.  Photo by Barry Saks

To an audience in the chamber which was about three-fourths full, the Long Beach City Council, on Tuesday, Feb. 21, held a study session on affordable and workforce housing.

At the beginning of the session, Mayor Robert Garcia said, “California, in particular, is having incredible demands” for affordable housing.  He then added the state mandates cities to build yearly affordable housing with specific target numbers and that “Long Beach, along with most cities, normally falls short” in reaching those targets.  Then near the end of his introductory remarks, the Mayor said, “We want to make sure that we are building enough housing for our graduated students … for our workers and we continue to build all the market-rate housing that we are already building.”

Then, Director of Development Services Amy J. Bodek reiterated for the City Council the findings of the draft report.  Near the beginning of her presentation, she posed, “With public funding dwindling, how are we going to move forward and invest in affordable housing as a legitimate infrastructure investment and what policies can we implement to stimulate housing development, both affordable housing and market-rate housing, how do we incentivize developers and what new revenue sources are available?”

Bodek said there are two ways to develop affordable housing.  One way is by “providing special financing that underwrites the market rents for those units in exchange … we achieve covenants that require that the affordability of those units remain in place either for 45 years or 55 years.”  The second is “through direct rental subsidies.”

The Director said the trend over time in Long Beach is that housing costs are rising for one and two bedroom units.  She pointed out while for the last 15 years, Long Beach renters have been about 58 percent of the residents.  However in the last five years Long Beach renters are now between 59 and 60 percent of the residents.

Bodeck said, “The resources that used to be available (for affordable housing development) have frankly plummeted.”   She then pointed out about eight and a half percent of the city’s housing is either under covenants or has protections for affordability.

Regarding the production or the rehabilitation of affordable units, the Director said, “The City itself does not produce the units ourselves.  We assist in the financing.”

Bodek then explained how the city was encouraging affordable housing development by developers through incentives, such as “developer impact fee waivers,” which is in the municipal code, and “density bonuses,” which could require the relaxation of some requirements, like height or parking.

Next to speak was the chair of the Affordable Workforce Housing Study Group, former Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal.  The former Assemblywoman then mentioned possible funding sources, like a real estate recording fee, which is a transaction fee, or the city passing its own bond measure.  Near the end of her presentation she said, “It is pretty clear that tonight we were not able to discuss the issue of renters’ rights….But, that’s a separate issue, that has to be discussed at length, at length, at a separate time.”

Bodek, in response to a question from 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez on possible programs from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), said, “We’re hoping frankly that HUD keeps are budget stable.”

After Gonzalez commented, 2nd District Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce said, “To say that the situation of affordable housing in California is becoming urgent is simply an understatement.” Then near the end of her comments, she said, “We were able to incentivize development in downtown and that’s been really great.  But the fact that we were unable to develop one affordable housing unit in that downtown plan means we are in the crisis mode we’re in today.”

Then 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson said homeownership “is slipping away for a lot of people.”

After Richardson, 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo said she had “a serious concern that the recording fee would be passed on” to the renter, homeowner or buyer.

Then 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga said, “Gentrification is a big issue….then you’re pushing people out.”

The Mayor ended the study session with some comments.  He said the city has been building market-rate housing in the city, that he supports that effort and it will continue, but now affordable housing is what is needed.

After the councilmembers spoke and asked their questions to city staff, the study session was opened for the public to speak.

Twice during the public and comments, the Mayor reminded the audience and the speakers that the question of tenant protections was not part of the study session.

Several people spoke, who identified themselves as members of Long Beach Residents Empowered.  One of them was Jorge Rivera, who characterized himself as a volunteer Program Director of LiBRE.  Rivera said, “LiBRE directly is in support of creating more affordable housing.  Yet we want to ensure that you are creating it for those people that are most in need…. I hope you agree that there is no way to build ourselves out of this crisis…. But let us not forget that we desperately need resident retention policies to keep people in their homes now.”

Many others echoed Rivera for the need for resident retention policies, also known as tenant protections.

However, not all of the speakers spoke in favor of tenant protections.  About an equal number of speakers, some of whom identified with Better Housing Long Beach, spoke against tenant protections or what they called rental restrictions.  One of them was John De La Torre.  Another was Dan Mulherin and a third was Gary Michovich.

Supporting documents for the study session may be found at and at.

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