Four-Hour Council Study Session Hears Methods To Increase Affordable and Workforce Housing

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(Feb. 24, 2017) -- The Long Beach City Council held a marathon four hour study session on Tuesday, Feb. 21 on affordable and workforce housing, rescheduling the evening's Council meeting to begin a half hour earlier than usual at 4:30 p.m. The study session, held to receive staff information and public testimony but take no voted action, began about 5:10 p.m. and didn't end until roughly 9:15 p.m., with Mayor Robert Garcia holding the balance of the Council's agenda items until after the study session, which filled the Council Chamber audience to roughly three quarters full.

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Twice during the study session -- at the opening and near the conclusion after multiple public comments -- Mayor Robert Garcia told the audience and public speakers that tenant protections (such as potential ordinances dealing with unjust evictions and rent control) -- were not part of the agendized subject matter ("to receive and file a report and presentation on revenue tools and incentives for the production of affordable and workforce housing.")

Mayor Garcia opened the study session by stating, "California, in particular, is having incredible demands" for affordable housing, adding that Sacramento 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. 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."

Director of the City's Development Services Bureau, Amy Bodek, presented findings of a Draft Report: Revenue Tools and Incentives for the Production of Affordable and Workforce Housing, prepared by a study group chaired by retired Assemblywoman/former Vice Mayor/Councilwoman Bonnie Lowenthal and the City's Housing and Neighborhood Services Bureau.

Ms. Bodek posed the following question for consideration: "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?"

Ms. Bodek indicated that one way is to provide "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" and a second way is "through direct rental subsidies."



As part of a Power Point presentation, Ms. Bodek 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 and "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, Ms. Bodek said, "The City itself does not produce the units ourselves. We assist in the financing." She 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. Ms. Bodek also indicated that "inclusionary zoning" requirements are an option.

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Retired Assemblywoman/retired Vice Mayor Lowenthal, who chaired the "Affordable Workforce Housing Study Group," noted that possible funding sources included a possible real estate recording fee (a transaction fee) or city passage of its own bond measure. Ms. Lowenthal also acknowledged: "It is pretty clear that tonight we were not able to discuss the issue of renters' rights [within the draft report]...But, that's a separate issue, that has to be discussed at length, at length, at a separate time."

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

2nd District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce commented: "To say that the situation of affordable housing in California is becoming urgent is simply an understatement," and added "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."

Vice Mayor/9th District Councilman Rex Richardson said home ownership "is slipping away for a lot of people."

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.

7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga said, "Gentrification is a big issue...then you're pushing people out."

And Mayor Garcia commented that the city has been building market-rate housing, that he supports this effort and it will continue, but now affordable housing is what is needed...and opened the meeting to public testimony.



Several speakers identified themselves as members of Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE), including Jorge Rivera, who said he was a LiBRE volunteer Program Director. Mr. 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."

Multiple other speakers echoed Mr. Rivera's view on the need for resident retention policies / tenant protections. Other speakers urged maintaining and creating housing for very low and low income residents.

A roughly equal number of speakers, some of whom identified with Better Housing Long Beach, spoke against tenant protections that they described as rental restrictions. Among them were John De La Torre, Dan Mulhern and Gary Michovich.

At roughly 9:15 p.m., the Council voted 8-0 (Andrews absent for entire meeting) to receive and file the Draft Report, which City staff had transmitted to Councilmembers on Feb. 17 (in advance of the study session) with a memo indicating that the Final Report would incorporate input from the Study Session for presentation to the Mayor and City Council at a later date.


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