Community Groups Call on City Leaders to Strengthen Land Use Plan for Future Generations

Eleven local community organizations submitted a letter to the City of Long Beach Planning Commission and City Council calling for the passage of the Land Use and Urban Design Element with stronger language regarding equitable density, affordable housing, renter protections, and targeted economic development.

The letter details why every Long Beach resident should have the opportunity to live and work in a healthy, thriving, and forward-looking city, and how developing a shared vision of the city’s future is the first step to ensuring this happens.

“While we are pleased with the changes that have been made to date, we see the suggested revisions serving as a foundation for long-range land use that accounts for existing overburdened communities and projected increases in population density,” said Steve Gerhardt, Executive Director of Walk Long Beach. “As community partners, we are sending an open invitation for constructive dialogue with the Planning Commission, and will otherwise remain neutral on the passage of the Land Use Element in its current state. All neighborhoods should be walkable and offer recreational opportunities and convenient access to healthy lifestyle choices.”

In the submitted letter, advocates address the need for a long-range land-use plan and emphasize the important components that implementation should include in the coming years to reverse historic racial and economic inequities. The letter also identifies updates needed to city codes to move toward inclusive economic development and planning.

“The Land Use Element is a critical part of improving and integrating housing, transportation, safety, and health for all residents of Long Beach, especially those communities of color who have borne the brunt of past discriminatory housing and land-use practices like redlining and covenants,” explains Kevin Shin, Walk Bike Long Beach steering committee co-chair and Long Beach resident. “Crafting a strong, comprehensive LUE that promotes equitable housing availability and renter protections is a necessary first step to correct past wrongdoings and bring justice to our communities.”

The letter was spearheaded by the Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach (BHCLB) Environmental Health Workgroup, which consists of community and organizational leaders working collaboratively on environmental policy and organizing that promotes clean air, zero emissions, safe streets, and health promoting land use.

The City of Long Beach Planning Commission will consider the Land Use Element (including the council district maps) on December 11, 2017 beginning at 5:00pm at Long Beach City Hall, located at 333 W. Ocean Boulevard Long Beach 90802.

For a copy of the LUE letter, click here.


GRUPOS DE COMUNIDAD LLAMAN A LÍDERES DE LA CIUDAD PARA FORTALECER UN PLAN DE USO DE TERRENO PARA NUESTRAS GENERACIONES FUTURAS

Once organizaciones comunitarias locales presentaron una carta a la comisión de planificación y el consejo municipal de la ciudad de Long Beach llamado para el pasaje del uso del terreno y el elemento del diseño urbano en que tenga lenguaje más fuerte al lado de densidad equitativa, vivienda asequible, inquilinos protecciones, y en enfocándose al desarrollo económico.

La carta detalla porque los residentes de Long Beach deben de tener la oportunidad en vivir y trabajar en una ciudad saludable, floreciente y con visión al futuro, y desarrollar una visión compartida del futuro para la ciudad es el primer paso que tenemos que hacer para asegurar que esto pase.

“Mientras que estamos contentos con los cambios que se han hecho hasta la fecha, vemos que las surgencias revisiones sirviendo como fundación para un largo alcance del uso de terreno que toma en cuenta las sobrecargadas comunidades que existen y aumentos proyectados en densidad de población,” dijo Steve Gerhardt, Director Ejecutivo de Walk Long Beach. “Como colaboradores comunitarios, le estamos mandando una invitación abierta para diálogo constructivo con la comisión de planificación, y por lo demás vamos a mantener neutrales en el pasaje del elemento del uso del terreno en su estado actual. Todos vecindarios deben de ser caminable y ofrecer oportunidades recreacionales y conveniente acceso a saludables opciones para un buen estilo de vida.”

En la carta entregada, activistas hablan de la necesidad para un plan de largo alcance del uso de terreno y centrarse en los componentes importantes que debe de incluir implementación en los años que vienen para revertir inequidades raciales y económicas que son históricas. La carta también identifica actualizaciones necesitadas a los códigos de ciudad para movernos más cerca a el desarrollo y planificación económica inclusiva.

“El elemento del uso del terreno es una parte crítica de mejorar y entregar vivienda, transportación, seguridad y salud para todos los residentes en Long Beach, especialmente esas comunidades de color que han asumido el peso de la discriminación del pasado en practicas de vivienda y uso de terreno como redlining y convenios,” explica Kevin Shin, Walk Long Beach comite directivo co-presidente y residente de Long Beach. “Construyendo una fuerte, comprensiva LUE que apoye acceso a equitativo vivienda y inquilino proteciones es un primer paso necesario para corregir los pasados males y traer justicia a nuestras comunidades.”

The carta fue encabezada por el grupo de trabajo del medio ambiente de Building Healthy Communities: Long Beach (BHCLB), que consiste de líderes de la comunidad y organizaciones trabajando en colaboración en poliza del medio ambiente y organizando en manera de promover aire limpio, cero emisiones, calles seguras, y salud promoviendo el uso del terreno.

La comisión de planificación de la ciudad de Long Beach van a considerar el elemento del uso de terreno (incluyendo los mapas de los distritos) en el 11 de diciembre del 2017 comenzando a las 5:00pm en el municipalidad de Long Beach localizado en 333. W. Ocean Boulevard Long Beach 90802.

Para una copia de la carta de LUE, clic aquí.


Residents March to City Hall, Demand Protections for Renters

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Residents rally together outside City Hall for renter’s rights. Photo by LBTE member Ron Javorsky.

By Jason Ruiz, Long Beach Post. Read the original article here.

The stench coming from broken sewage pipe underneath his home was so repulsive that when police officers showed up to the unit they thought there might be a dead body under it. There were planks leading from the ripped out kitchen to the non-existent bathroom in the unit that housed 6 people under the premise of being a “sober living facility.”

And for over two months, Hippie Chuck, as he prefers to be called, and the rest of the occupants were forced to defecate and urinate in a bucket while they waited for their landlord to make necessary repairs.

“The only thing holding the floor together were the termites holding their hands together,” Chuck said. “It was a mess. I suffer from severe depression and it sure as hell didn’t help me smile. It just made me more depressed. What can you do?”

The home wasn’t zoned or registered to be a sober living facility. And in addition to Chuck and his five roommates, roaches, rats and mice also called the unit home. When there were complaints made about the living situation, the tenants were met with threats of raised rents, evictions and the alternative of being homeless.

“Every time I complained or anyone complained the answer was always the same,” Chuck said. “‘You don’t like it? Move.’”

While these horror stories may represent only a small minority of Long Beach landlords, Chuck’s tale is one that is heard and seen (and smelled) by Kerry Gallagher far too often. Gallagher, the executive director of Housing Long Beach (HLB), a community organization aimed at improving the living conditions and the affordability of homes for Long Beach residents, said that some of the conditions are what you’d expect in developing countries—but they’re happening right here in this city.

People like Chuck and the countless others Gallagher has led to the pulpit at City Hall over the last several weeks to testify during public comment in front of council members are the reasons why for the past two-plus years she’s been a strong advocate of bringing increased renters’ rights to Long Beach. In particular, she’s fighting to have Long Beach adopt the Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP), which would establish an avenue for renters to pay their rent, or a reduced rent, to the City once a problem landlord has failed to bring their units into compliance with local codes. The money paid into the escrow account would be released to the landlords once the issues that landed it in REAP were resolved.

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Residents march down 7th Street for renter’s rights. Photo by LBTE member Ron Javorsky.

The current alternative is to take the case to court, which Gallagher said is troublesome for many reasons. With the burden of proof being placed on the renter, it’s extremely difficult to demonstrate that actions are retaliatory in nature. Because most of the people being affected are low income and legal representation is expensive, they often have to represent themselves in court.

“It’s very hard to prove motive,” Gallagher said. “The other thing that ends up happening is that if you don’t have an attorney[…] you’re 99 percent likely to lose. And if you lose you get an eviction on your credit report that stays there for 10 years.”

Even property owners have spoken out in defense of REAP and have been supportive of the efforts to bring it to Long Beach. Kate Karp, a local property owner [and contributor to the Post], recently testified in front of city council. She dispelled the idea that REAP is anti-business and what’s been described as fear mongering on the part of the apartment association. Karp, a member of the Apartment Association of Southern California herself said absentee landlords that let buildings fall into disrepair are not only dangerous to tenants but bad for the neighborhood as a whole. Speaking for landlords that care about their tenants and property, Karp said “we don’t support slumlords in Long Beach.”

“To us, personal safety and livability shouldn’t have a price tag attached,” Karp said. “When our tenants have a problem in their residence we fix it.”

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, almost 60 percent of Long Beach residents are renters. Several cities in California, including Sacramento, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles have adopted the program to help bring units that are out of code back into compliance. Los Angeles has had REAP for over 30 years, and according to an official from the city’s compliance division of the Housing Community Investment Department, it has been very successful.

The official, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that Los Angeles brings hundreds of properties into compliance every year through REAP. In 2014, the city tabulated 500 units that successfully exited REAP after necessary repairs were made. The City of Los Angles has over 760,000 rental units but currently only 4,000 in REAP, which representatives see as proof that the program is working in a proactive way, as less than one percent of the housing stock is in REAP.

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Residents march down Ocean Boulevard for renter’s rights. Photo by LBTE member Ron Javorsky.

The process includes several steps before a unit is placed into the program and it usually takes about four months from the first violation being reported to the unit entering REAP, with several opportunities for landlords to remedy the issues.

The program is funded through fees that are paid by the property owners that have units in REAP. The landlords must pay $50 per month for every unit in REAP, a sum that is subtracted from the balance in the escrow account. To put it simply, “[i]t doesn’t cost the city any money,” the Los Angeles official said.

Gallagher secured the inclusion of the program in the recently passed 2013-2021 Housing Element, with a promise that city council would explore bringing it to the city. The Housing Element identifies policies, programs and objectives that focus on improving the health, affordability and the development of the city’s housing stock. Gallagher said the discussed timeline of January 20 set by the city staff came and went, which is why she organized the march to city hall last night.

“We thought there was going to be a hearing, when we learned that there wasn’t we said ‘well, let’s go anyways,’” Gallagher said. “‘Let’s keep talking about it, let’s get the community together and let the council know this still matters.’”

A group of nearly 70 renters, landlords and organizers marched through the streets of downtown yesterday, holding signs reading “Renters Rights are Human Rights” and “Safe and Healthy Homes 4 All” and chanting things like “We want a home that’s nice, not the roaches and mice”. They snaked their way down Long Beach Boulevard and headed west on Ocean Boulevard receiving applause and honks of approval along the way. They finally reached the courtyard outside city hall where they turned their signs and megaphones upward.

“What do we want?” they shouted.

“REAP!” the crowd responded.

“When do we want it?”

“Now!”

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Resident leader Vanessa Davis MC’s a rally for renter’s rights outside City Hall. Photo by LBTE member Ron Javorsky.

Vanessa Davis, a soon-to-be board member at HLB, shared with the assembled crowd her own story of how she battled intimidation after reporting her sub-standard living conditions. She had her rent raised after reporting her landlord to code enforcement, was served with two separate eviction notices and now lives in a shelter after eventually leaving the unit. Davis’ case was never heard in court, as the landlord’s lawyer decided to drop the case.

“You can’t live in fear,” Davis said. “If you’re paying your rent you should have every right to have a healthy place to live.”

Deputy Director of Neighborhood Services Angela Reynolds said that there are current protections in place to keep buildings up to code and to protect the people inhabiting them. She cited the proactive Housing Habitability Ordinance that the city has had in place for over 20 years. She said that the program has a 90 percent compliance rate within 120 days of the first reported violation. She did add the city doesn’t enforce retaliation claims or represent people in court, since that is a State matter.

Reynolds said that when a facility is found to be in violation, the landlord receives an administrative citation of $100. If it’s found to still be in violation after 30 days a $200 citation is given followed by a $500 citation if another 30 days passes without the unit being brought into compliance. Although rare, Reynolds said offenders are fined $500 per week after the 120 day mark and the case is then sent to the city prosecutors office for criminal action.

“There are about four cases a year that actually don’t come into compliance and have to go to the city prosecutor,” Reynolds said. “They hardly ever go to court because they have an office hearing and once the city prosecutor is talking to them in their office, they come into compliance.”

In 2012, the city performed 2,652 of these inspections—short of its stated goal of assessing an average of 5,500 multi-family units annually to correct code violations. According to the adopted housing element, there were over 90,000 multi-family homes in the city as of 2011. Gallagher said that while the ordinance could be viewed as a REAP alternative, less than 10 percent of the units are checked annually.

“I don’t know if that’s necessarily the most effective way to identify the scope of problems,” Gallagher said.

Reynolds was unable to comment on the REAP program because it has yet to be prepared and submitted to city council. She also noted that the date for the memo to be submitted, which will be an off-agenda memo, could be pushed back several months. Her office won’t take any action until it’s read by the council

First District Council Woman Lena Gonzalez, who served as a field deputy to Mayor Robert Garcia when he was a council member, has seen first-hand the horror stories that HLB is trying to write a final chapter to.

“As a field deputy, I was always getting these complaints but I never really understood them fully until I saw for myself,” Gonzalez said. “These places, you’d think they were in third world countries but they’re here in Long Beach, and people are suffering from them every single day.”

Gonzalez is supportive of the issue and thinks that with Long Beach being much smaller than LA, the program should be more manageable to run here. With over 50 percent in her district being renters and the other half being home owners, she added that a program like this could be mutually beneficial as property values increase with the elimination of blight, and so too would living conditions. However, the unknown costs to the city and how it would affect staffing—and the fact that it has yet to be presented to council—remain as obstacles.

“The interest is there, but I think on the staff side we’re just trying to work and figure out what the cost implications would be and the staffing as well,” Gonzalez said. “We currently don’t have a policy right now that is as proactive that we should have to be able to tackle these landlords that aren’t playing by the rules and landlords that aren’t taking care of their properties. To me, that’s a huge deal.”

One by one, members of the rally made their way to the microphone to share their plight with city council. As each person spoke, the others held up signs that spelled out “Healthy Homes 4 Long Beach.”

“These are not just people’s stories, these are people’s lives,” said Johnathan Bibriesca, who marched with the group.“They’re taking [a] courageous act in coming to talk to you about what’s going on, risking retaliation and some of you know that is very real.”


OP-ED: Creating Affordable Housing Is an Economic Imperative

Housing Long BeachThis op-ed was originally posted on the Long Beach Post at www.lbpost.com. To learn more about the City Council hearing, visit the Housing Long Beach Facebook page.

by Kerry Gallagher | Budgets are a response to our current needs, but they also act as a road map for the future. Budgets also reflect our values. Each year, the City must pass a budget that addresses the existing needs of its residents and plan for the coming years as well. This can be difficult, especially when the immediacy of certain issues overshadows the importance of long-term planning.

If community needs are ignored, they find their way back to haunt us, often in far more expensive ways than the original cost. Infrastructure issues ignored lead to far more pricey solutions later; affordable housing production needs gone ignored lead to public safety issues, health issues and a significantly reduced quality of life for Long Beach residents. Investment in the development of quality, affordable housing is an investment in the current and future health of our residents.

Creating and preserving housing affordability in Long Beach is not just a moral or health concern; it’s an economic imperative. When families are paying more than 30% of their income on housing, which is the widely accepted standard for determining whether housing is affordable, they are unable to meet other basic needs such as food and medical expenses. Prioritizing the development of quality housing that is affordable to our residents will stimulate economic growth in Long Beach. In fact, if the City were to meet its existing need for 4,000 affordable homes for current residents, it would generate more than $14M annually from cost savings on rent, which would be spent in our local economy.

The loss of redevelopment agencies, which were legally required to set aside 20% of funds for affordable housing, severely limited new housing development affordable to Long Beach residents. But even with the demise of redevelopment and the subsequent loss of $25M annually for affordable housing, the local property tax increment that once generated income for the City remains intact.

Unfortunately, these local funds no longer support Long Beach’s economic and housing investment efforts as the tax increment currently goes to the State. Each year, after the State balances their budget, the remainder of this increment is returned to the City from which it came, without any restrictions. Therefore, it is placed in the general fund. However, it is critical that a portion of this tax increment money – also known as Boomerang funds – be set aside for affordable housing development. Just as the City utilizes proportional cuts, it should also utilize proportional re-funding. Therefore, 20% of boomerang funds should be dedicated in the City’s budget to the development of housing that is affordable to Long Beach residents.

A few years back, the City borrowed money from the redevelopment 20% housing set-aside, and it is now legally required to pay this money back. The $24.7M that the Mayor is currently proposing for housing is the debt obligation that the City owes to itself. This money is the first step towards paying back our debt to the housing fund, and we commend this responsible effort. At the same time, it must be noted that this is a legal requirement that has come due, not a proposal, and the City must still proactively find ways to create a permanent local source of funds to invest in affordable homes.

We urge the Mayor and the City Council to budget in a responsible manner that reflects the critical housing needs of Long Beach residents. We cannot thrive as a city if we ignore the health and safety of Long Beach residents who need safe and affordable places to live. Too many working families are playing by the rules, but still cannot find an affordable home in Long Beach. The City can take one step forward to addressing this crisis if it sets aside 20% of boomerang funds for affordable housing.

Kerry Gallagher is the Executive Director of Housing Long Beach. She received her undergraduate degree at Azusa Pacific University in Communication and Media Studies and her Master’s degree from Goldsmith’s College in London in Cultural Studies.






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