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Seniors continue to struggle to find affordable, appropriate housing in Long Beach

Everyone Home Long Beach Task Force to put forth policy recommendations by fall.

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A $200-to-$500 rent increase, a protest by tenants who fear they may end up homeless and a landlord acting within the bounds of the law by raising rent have recently fueled discussions in a city full of affordable-housing facilities with year-long waitlists.

Launched in the spring to address these and other issues contributing to the housing and homelessness crisis, the Everyone Home Long Beach Task Force will convene for its fourth meeting next Friday before putting forth a set of policy recommendations for the Long Beach City Council to review this fall.

For Lori Ellett, a resident at the Lexanna Apartment building, where the aforementioned scenario has been unfolding all summer, the recent rent increase she was given has her “terrified to end up back on the streets.”

Notices that rent would increase for a majority of the tenants in the building, which is home for veterans and senior citizens, went out in June, and the increase took effect Sept. 1. Ellett said she could not afford to pay the increase, so she only paid the amount of rent that she was paying previously.

“I can’t eat, I can’t pay any other bill, and I am still in the hole another $192,” Ellett said in a meeting last Thursday.

Ellett said she is afraid her “homeless tendencies” are kicking back in, as her fear of ending up without a home for the second time grows. Approximately 20 years since she was last homeless, Ellett would face the streets this time confined to a walker due to a disability.

The City of Long Beach identified significant “gaps and lack of coordination in the services it currently offers its older residents,” according to the Establishing Care Systems for an Age-Friendly Community GAP Analysis, which was published in May.

The report indicated that 14 percent of people 65 years of age or more in Long Beach were living below the poverty level between 2011 and 2015. Lack of affordable and appropriate housing for seniors were listed as areas in need of improvement in the report, as well.

Long Beach Director of Health and Human Services Kelly Colopy said the City does not often capture data by age specifically and that there are ongoing efforts to gather those numbers through the Long Beach Multi-Service Center and other agencies in order to “get a better feel for what those numbers look like.”

“There are a lot of conversations out there right now where we’re hearing about older adults whose rents have been raised, and they can’t afford to live there anymore, and so they’re falling out of housing and looking for different options,” Colopy said. “There are a couple different senior-only, low-income senior developments out there, but they are full and the waitlists are long. There’s not a lot of opportunity in those spaces right now.”

For renter Phillip Holmes, who has lived in the Lexanna building for approximately nine years, if he could be given housing at an alternative facility, such as the nearby Beacon Senior Apartments, he would gladly take it.

“There are new apartments being built right here on the corner of Anaheim and Long Beach Boulevard,” Holmes said. “The buses ride right through there, the Blue Line stops right by there, I can walk half a block down and pay my phone bill, my bank isn’t that far away, the supermarket is two blocks away. It’s a perfect location for me.”

Holmes said he is worried about the application process and the waitlist at the Beacon property, which broke ground last summer. Colopy said that, in addition to long waitlists at the facilities that are available for seniors, homeless seniors with Section 8 Vouchers for subsidized housing are often left waiting, as well. She said there are approximately 700 to 800 people– not just older adults– with vouchers in Long Beach who are unable to utilize them.

“If someone is homeless, and they’re coming in through our Multi-Service Center, and if they qualify, we can work with them to have a Section 8 Voucher, but it’s been very difficult because we have a lot of people on the streets with Section 8 Vouchers right now, and because the market is so tight for places to live, we find that they’re not able to utilize their vouchers,” Colopy said. “So, even if we have older adults who have a voucher, it’s very difficult for them to find a place to go.”

After 180 days, vouchers expire per the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules, and extensions are not made. Colopy said she and the City of Long Beach are continually working on housing trackers and other programs to better identify where vouchers can be used, and they are also working on an incentive program for landlords to accept vouchers, which she said has been somewhat successful.

Holmes, a veteran, said he isn’t looking to move due to the rent increases, necessarily; rather, he is unhappy with how the facility is run. He said, for example, there have been too many incidents where the water is off with no notice to tenants.

“[The rent increase] is not affecting me that much, because I’m a veteran, and I got my apartment through the [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing] program through the Veterans Administration,” Holmes said, adding that his rent did actually increase by approximately $250, but he is only paying $1 of that amount. “I pay a minimum amount of rent, and the rest is paid for me. But, I had to go to war for that.”

Holmes and other tenants in the Lexanna building have been meeting regularly with Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE) since the notices of the rent increases went out, and the group assisted the tenants with a rally outside of the building in August. Organizers from LiBRE and other similar organizations joined the tenants for the demonstration, carrying large signs with messages such as, “Rent is too damn high,” and calling out mantras of, “Housing is a human right– fight, fight, fight.”

At their most recent meeting, approximately six tenants joined two representatives from LiBRE in a patio on the property but outside of the building. The group discussed possible next steps and agreed that they would need to take collective action before next month’s rent is due on Oct. 1.
Tenants said they used to convene inside the building in the community room, but approximately three weeks ago, the room was closed with little explanation. Some tenants said they feel their landlord locked the room in order to prevent them from meeting with LiBRE to discuss the next steps in protesting the rent hikes.

Paige Pelonis | Signal Tribune
Tenants of the Lexanna Apartment building meet with Long Beach Residents Empowered Thursday, Sept. 6, to discuss next steps to address significant rent increases in their building.

Landlord Kenneth Voight did not return calls or emails to the Signal Tribune for his comment, and tenants and representatives from LiBRE said he has not agreed to meet with them since giving the notices.

“I’m not in disagreement with him raising the rent,” said Lexanna tenant Barbara Smith, whose rent increased nearly $300. “I am in disagreement with the extreme amount. It’s a lot of money for seniors who are on a fixed income […] and we just had an increase around 10 percent [last year.]”

The group discussed the possibility of a rent strike, and they agreed they would need the majority of the tenants to participate in order to be successful. They also discussed options like increasing their social-media efforts to pressure Voight to meet with them or hosting another rally, either outside of the apartment building again or one outside of Voight’s home, which they did last month, as well.

“[Lexanna supporters] have been at a lot of council meetings, and we have been working very hard behind the scenes to find ways to support them,” Colopy said. “We’re looking at how many of them living there had Section 8 […] which actually can support them with the increase. For others, we’re looking for other locations, we’re looking for other mechanisms to utilize Section 8. […] I know there’s a lot of conversation where they don’t feel like anybody is doing anything, but I will tell you, there’s a lot of people trying to figure out how to support the people in the Lexanna.”

Colopy said she and her colleagues have reached out to Voight on several occasions to work with him. She said she is hopeful that the policy recommendations that come out of the Everyone Home Long Beach Task Force process will include new items to specifically address the needs of adults in Long Beach.

The intended last meeting for the task force will be held at Century Villages at Cabrillo from 9am to noon Friday, Sept. 21, and drafts of the recommendations are expected to be shared online shortly thereafter.

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Seniors continue to struggle to find affordable, appropriate housing in Long Beach