Did they raise the rent?
If you live in a Long Beach apartment or rental home, the answer just might be an emphatic, “Yes!”
According to Apartment List, a San Francisco-based online group that analyzes trends in rental housing, Long Beach last month cracked its list of the 10 large U.S. cities with the steepest rent increases over the past year.
In rising almost 8 percent from February 2016 to February 2017, the city’s average rent increase put Long Beach in a tie for fourth place with Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said Chris Salviati, senior growth associate at Apartment List.
Long Beach, where 60 percent of people are renters, also logged the eighth sharpest month-to-month increase in February, at 2.6 percent. Not surprisingly, California dominated both lists.
Salviati said the ranking is among the nation’s 100 largest cities by population and is based on rental listings within Long Beach proper and doesn’t include lease rates in surrounding communities.
The overall rent increase partly reflects construction of new apartment complexes that are offering lots of amenities and charging pricey rates for leases, said John Keisler, economic and property development director for Long Beach.
In many cases, he said, renters paying those higher rates are people moving into the city as the housing stock grows. And he said that is a positive development.
But tales of rising rent among current tenants are not isolated these days, said Josh Butler, executive director for Housing Long Beach, a renter advocacy group.
“We see people coming into our office every day who are having their rent increased — and dramatically,” Butler said.
The city’s ranking hardly comes as a surprise to Erin Townsend, who lives in the northern part of Long Beach near Lakewood.
“I believe it,” Townsend said.
The rent she pays for the two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot unit she shares with 19-year-old son Ian has been going up rapidly the past six years.
“When we moved into the apartment I was paying $1,395,” she said. “We are now paying $1,856. There will be another increase this year, too.”
And, no, the income she receives from her hair stylist job hasn’t been going up at the same rate — not even close. Townsend said she could raise prices, but her customers would simply go elsewhere.
“We had to cut the cable. That’s gone,” she said. “And we cut the house phone out.”
Valerie Spankie had no choice but to move.
She and husband Brian lived for 19 years in a rental unit along First Street.
They paid $1,100 a month for a 1,000-square-foot apartment, Spankie said.
Then the property sold the first of the year. The new owners informed them the units would be remodeled and rent would go to $2,025, she said.
“We were looking at them and we were like, ‘You have lost your mind,’ ” she said.
Not only couldn’t they afford the new rate, they couldn’t afford to move. After some negotiation, Spankie said, the owners provided $4,000 in relocation assistance and the longtime Long Beach couple moved to another neighborhood last weekend.
“They need some sort of rent control in Long Beach,” Spankie said. “It’s crazy. I mean, we’re the last affordable city by the beach pretty much.”
SOME HAVE MOVED
Butler said some increases have forced a few families out of their homes.
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.”
Butler termed the trend alarming, but it’s not to the point the group is advocating a rent stabilization policy. He said, however, that he’d love to see a temporary moratorium on rent increases and evictions.
“We need to hit the pause button and see what’s going on,” he said.
Butler blames some redevelopment that has spurred gentrification of older neighborhoods.
Keisler said it’s concerning to city officials when people are displaced from their homes.
“We don’t want people to be forced out,” Keisler said.
Keisler said city officials are keeping watch on the situation and want the housing stock to offer something for a wide variety of people and incomes. That includes established families, blue-collar workers, professionals, executives and others, he said.
“In terms of economic opportunity,” he said, “we want there to be an option for everyone. You need to have a balance to have a really thriving economy.”