Housing in Long Beach, Part 2: Income Doesn’t Pay the Rent

This is part two of a series on Long Beach housing. To read part one, which examines Long Beach’s migration movements and its ties to housing, click here

The author would like to thank Housing Long Beach, the City of Long Beach, the Long Beach Community Database, Kerry Gallagher, and Patrick Moreno.

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As previously mentioned, Long Beach’s Housing Element (HE)–the state-required planning document that analyzes a city’s housing needs in eight-year blocks–is due for renewal this October.

For more on Housing Long Beach, click on the image.

The draft HE, released to the public June 6, was handed to the Planning Commission last week on June 20–accompanied with deep criticism from nonprofit Housing Long Beach (HLB)–where it will undergo further analysis before it is sent to the Council floor for final approval in October.

The HE is described on its cover as a “tool to guide communities in periodically thinking about and planning for present and future housing needs.” Not only does the HE impart dictating how housing will evolve in a city over a relatively large period of time–from October of this year to October of 2021–but it also dictates the definition of those needs: housing production needs, housing affordability, the condition of the existing housing stock, housingsegregation, fair housing, preservation of at-risk units, and identification of appropriate sites for future housing are all within a city’s HE.

The criticisms brought forth by HLB are ones that are contemporary in nature but reflect issues that history previously discussed: influxes in population led to uphill housing battles, be it social, economic or spatial in nature.

According to HLB, de facto segregation still deeply exists since the city has largely concentrated downtown development on a tourism economy, essentially ignoring its industrial workforce and harming earning potential.

Given Long Beach’s higher rates of poverty and unemployment–above the county, state, and country–that puts many renters paying far more than what is federally defined as affordable house living, i.e. 30% of one’s income is spent on rent while the other 70% goes towards groceries, utilities, medical expenses, and that thing called living.

What this amounts to in numbers is the following: if one were to take Rent Calculator’s average two-bedroom apartment rent cost in Long Beach for 2012–$1,513 per month–an individual would have to earn some $60,520/year, or $29.09/hour to meet federal guidelines.

Let’s continue to play the Gentrification Game and head up to North Long Beach, where the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment drops to $1,200/month. This would still require wages to equate to some $48,000 annually or $23.07/hour at a full-time hourly-wage position.

Even further, according to the Long Beach Community Database, nearly half of the city’s renters–130,000 including this author right here–pay 35% (and sometimes more) of their income on housing alone.

The inclusion of affordable housing units is actually lucrative: the National Association of Home Builders claim that local jurisdictions receive on average $827,000 in immediate revenue–ranging form permit/impact fees to business property taxes–from an investment in 100 units. Given that the Center for Housing Policy notes that afforable housing actually lifts neighboring property values or leaves it untouched, tax bases increase.

HLB feels that particular things be included within the city’s HE so that we–be it poor or affluent–faces a housing crisis.

One of HLB’s largest criticism is the lack of a city-wide mixed-income policy–something to be found in 170 other California cities–within the HE on any level, even the possible consideration of one. New York, Los Angeles, and D.C. have shown that teachers, police officers, firefighters, and a multitude of other workers can actually live within the neighborhoods they work. In the words of Kelly Stewart Nichols, a planning and policy manager for the Austin, Texas governing agency: “Policy lessons have taught us that poverty concentration is not ideal.”

This was just one of many suggested alterations. Others included stricter language on permanent and dedicated local sources of funds for housing; stricter language on the implementation of a Rent Trust Account Program; the inclusion of “healthy sites” outside of the Downtown area; and emergency shelter zoning additions.

However, Planning Commission Chair Becky Blair–following a string of supportive board members praising HLB’s suggestions–noted that the board has no way to actually enforce housing regulations nor add stricter language within the HE.

This left Patrick Moreno to write a forthright opinion piece which simply asked: “If the board with the responsibility of overseeing the draft housing element does not have any real power to put those guidelines into laws and enforceable regulations, then who is making the laws for these things?”

The HE will continue to be in the public comment phase through the summer.

  • Anonymous

    Prices are high because demand is high. The simple solution is to make it easy to build more housing. If we were talking about something other than housing, most of our affordable housing policies would sound illogical.

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