Housing advocates are seeking to take the issue of rent control directly to voters after they say repeated calls on local leaders to enact basic renter protections in Long Beach have gone unanswered.
Housing Long Beach Executive Director Josh Butler, along with other community activists, walked into City Hall Wednesday morning to start the process to qualify a ballot measure for the November 2018 election.
“Sixty percent of Long Beach residents currently rent their homes, and they deserve stability,” Butler said in a statement.
“I think that we’ve been pretty vocal on our end about the need for renter protections in Long Beach, but we haven’t gotten any action from the City Council,” he said. “We feel like this is something that’s going to have to happen with action from the voters.”
Though the specific ballot language has not yet been crafted, Butler said it will include local ordinances for rent control and “just cause” eviction, as well as establishing a city-appointed board that would review individual rent-related cases. Butler included the three provisions in a notice of intent to begin collecting signatures, which he submitted to the city clerk’s office on Wednesday. That will now go to the city attorney, who will prepare an impartial statement and a ballot title for the petition over the next 15 days.
A minimum of approximately 27,000 signatures, or 10 percent of registered voters, are needed to qualify for the November 2018 ballot, according to Myra Maravilla, a Long Beach city clerk specialist. As of Nov. 1, there were 269,754 registered voters in the city, she said.
Butler will have 180 days to gather signatures from the date the city gives him the green light.
Long Beach rental rates have risen steadily in recent years, which is good for property owners but not so good for the dozens, and possibly hundreds, of people who have been forced from their homes as a result. From February 2016 to February 2017, local rents rose by approximately 8 percent, bumping Long Beach onto the list of the 10 large U.S. cities with the steepest rent increases over a one-year period.
Butler said people come into his office nearly every day with tales of staggering rent increases and/or evictions, often when a property is sold to a new owner who plans to renovate the units and rent them at a higher price point.
At present, officials estimate approximately 30 percent of renters spend over half their income on housing, and some 70 percent of low- and moderate-income households are considered “cost burdened,” according to a recent city-commission housing report.
The 88-page document includes 29 policy recommendations born out of a series of meetings with housing advocates, landlords, developers and other stakeholders, on how the city could create more affordable and workforce housing. It was approximately one year ago that Mayor Robert Garcia assembled the group, which included Butler.
While Butler believes that adding affordable housing is an important step is addressing renter issues, he said it’s going to take more.
“We can’t build our way out of this problem,” he said. “We need to create renter protections for seniors, for people with disabilities, for communities of color, who are all right now at risk of displacement.”