LONG BEACH-Developers who tear down low-rent apartments will have to replace them elsewhere in the city and also will have to give ousted tenants money to help them relocate under a new city housing policy.
Approved by the City Council this week, the new program drew praise from housing advocates as well as criticism that the requirements will do nothing to create new housing for Long Beach's large population of poor residents.
Wayne Munchel of the Long Beach Coalition for the Homeless likened the new policies to "pulling out a squirt gun to put out an inferno."
The Long Beach Housing Action Assn., a community organization, called for a much more sweeping program that would impose rent controls, require residential developers to include low-income units in all new apartment complexes and require office developers to contribute to a housing fund.
But council members followed city staff recommendations and steered a middle course. "I think it is an excellent beginning," Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton said of the efforts to maintain the number of low-income apartment units in the city.
The new requirements, outlined in the revised housing section of the city's general plan, call for developers to replace each unit of low-cost housing they demolish with another one, or to contribute an in-lieu fee for the creation of new units. That requirement already exists in the coastal zone, but would be extended citywide.
The relocation assistance would take the form of a $2,500 payment to each low-income household evicted from an apartment slated for demolition. Both new provisions will be written into ordinances that will be presented to the council later this summer.
The new programs were adopted against a backdrop of exploding regional housing costs that have far outstripped increases in income. Almost a quarter of the city's families pay more than 30% of their income for rent, the standard rule of thumb for the amount a family can afford to spend on housing. Moreover, 47% of the city's households are considered low income by government standards, compared to a regional average of 40%.
City officials said they would be placing too great a burden on high-income renters if they asked developers to take some of the steps proposed by housing advocates.
While low-income housing construction has lagged behind the city's goal, the creation of high-income housing has lagged even further. City Planning Director Robert Paternoster contended that the upper end of the rental market was too weak to support a so-called inclusionary zoning requirement calling for a certain percentage of low-income apartments to be built in every new apartment complex. The requirement would make construction of luxury apartments less attractive to developers and also drive up the rent of well-to-do tenants, opponents said.
Paternoster and City Manager James Hankla also said the local office-leasing market was far too soft to justify a requirement that office developers pay a per-square-foot fee into housing programs. Such fees, called linkage fees, have been adopted in some cities on the theory that a new office development increases pressure on the local housing market.
Nonetheless, Councilman Evan Anderson Braude argued that the city should consider adopting such programs in the future. He asked the city staff to regularly report on those issues.
Braude also successfully lobbied to have the relocation payments extended to tenants who are evicted from their apartments because the units do not meet city code requirements.