Long Beach City Council votes 6-3 to approve staff recommendations on tenant-assistance programs

Seventy-five individuals line up for comment on the item

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Among the topics discussed during the nearly seven-hour Long Beach City Council meeting on April 2 were tenant-assistance programs for displaced residents, an aquatics program for high-school students and reimbursement of predevelopment costs the City incurred to replace and rebuild structures at the Community Hospital site.

The council also heard presentations for Earth Month and National Public Health Week.

Tenant assistance
The council heard staff’s 2018 report on tenant-assistance policies, listened to lengthy public comment and engaged in a copious discussion of the various aspects of staff’s recommendations.

Mayor Robert Garcia took a moment to explain that, because about 75 people had shown up for the public-comment portion on the matter, officials would limit remarks to 90 seconds– as opposed to the usual three minutes– and firefighters, who were assisting with “crowd control,” would select from within lines of residents waiting to speak.

Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said staff has been working on the item for a year.

“We were asked by the city council to really do a lot of research and to come up with some options for you to consider related to tenant assistance,” Modica said, in addressing the councilmembers.

He then clarified that the discussion that evening would not be about rent control, rent caps or just-cause evictions.

“What we are talking about,” Modica said, “is tenant-relocation assistance and some other polices to assist displaced individuals.”

Modica went on to explain that on Jan. 16, 2018, the council had directed staff to conduct research and present findings on policies that support renter households, including: protections for senior renters; expanded relocation programs; home-ownership opportunities; the policies of other cities; housing preservation; added resources for code enforcement; and citywide rental rates. He said staff has since: engaged with stakeholders, including property owners; compiled background information on state laws regulating tenant rights and landlord responsibilities and rights; surveyed 115 cities; assembled information on senior-housing assistance and preservation; conducted four stakeholder meetings; prepared a comprehensive report on tenant assistance; and crafted five policy recommendations for the council’s consideration.

Modica then highlighted some of California’s existing laws concerning rental agreements and noticing requirements, saying a lease is for a defined term, typically a year, whereas a periodic agreement is a month-to-month tenancy. He said a 30-day notice is required for a rent increase of less than 10 percent annually, but a 60-day notice is required for a rent increase of more than 10 percent a year. A 30-day notice to vacate is necessary if a unit has been occupied for less than a year, but a 60-day notice is necessary for renters who have occupied a unit for more than a year. A three-day notice to vacate can be given for the eviction of an unlawful detainer, such as someone who fails to pay rent or otherwise violates the terms of a rental agreement.

He further explained that state law requires that tenants receive relocation-assistance payments when they are displaced because of code-enforcement action or government acquisition of property. Modica also mentioned that there are anti-retaliation laws in place to protect tenants who: complain to a landlord or government agency about unsafe or illegal living conditions; assemble and present their views collectively, as through a union; or withhold rent for an uninhabitable dwelling.

In reviewing citywide statistics, he said rental rates have steadily increased in the last few years while the vacancy rate has decreased, creating a “constrained market” in which it is very difficult, or even impossible, for people to find a place to rent.

Modica also reviewed several programs the City already has in place to assist tenants.

Staff then presented further information on: the City’s senior-renter-assistance program; its efforts to provide affordable housing preservation and production; and the stakeholder-engagement process and participants.

Linda Tatum, director of Development Services, then provided staff’s recommendations, the first of which is to prepare a tenant-relocation assistance ordinance intended to mitigate impacts to renter households that are involuntarily displaced. The policy would require apartment owners to pay relocation assistance to qualified tenants, and it includes base-relocation ordinance components that would trigger the assistance, as well as numerous applicability options.

The second recommendation is to create a City-funded “seniors first” security-deposit-assistance program for displaced very low-income senior residents.

The third is to create a set-aside of emergency housing-choice vouchers for displaced extremely low- and very low-income senior residents.

The fourth recommendation is to establish a communication framework with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Public Housing Office and area providers to discuss rehabilitation and covenant preservation opportunities for affordable housing for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

The fifth is to include a recommendation in the City’s state legislative agenda to support an increase to the State’s noticing requirement for a no-fault termination of tenancy to a minimum of 90 days.

After lengthy public comment, 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce made a motion to add further protections for the elderly and the disabled.

The council also discussed and clarified that after three years, the council will have the opportunity to review and reauthorize the ordinance, pending updated information from staff, and that, in the event that the council for some reason cannot vote on reauthorization exactly three years later, no residents will lose benefits in the meantime.

Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin spoke of his desire to have income qualifiers for the tenant compensation, as not all renters would actually have the need for the assistance. He also asked staff to pay attention to state legislation that might affect the ordinance.

The council then voted 6-3 in favor of moving forward with the staff recommendations, with dissenting votes from Suzie Price of District 3, Daryl Supernaw of District 4 and Stacy Mungo of District 5.

Aquatics program
The council approved an agreement with the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to reimburse the City’s fire department for $21,000 to provide a junior lifeguard preparatory course at Jordan and Cabrillo high schools, as well as for $30,000 to cover tuition of students in a summertime junior lifeguard program.

LBUSD Board of Education District 1 Member Megan Kerr, who championed the program, said her daughter has participated in it and found it beneficial.

“It pushed her in physical ways and mental ways in doing things that she didn’t think she could do,” Kerr said. She also stressed how the program can benefit the city.

“We will also recruit our high-school swimmers and water-polo players to participate in the cadet program, which can be a direct entry into high-paying jobs in marine safety,” Kerr said. “This keeps our really talented swimmers in our city doing work for our city.”

LBUSD Superintendent Christopher Steinhauser thanked the councilmembers and emphasized the importance of the program.

“I can’t thank you enough for your support of this program,” Steinhauser told the council. “The City is a great partner in everything that we do. We see this […] as a wonderful opportunity and equity issue for our students because, as you know, Long Beach Unified is going to be replacing all of our natatoriums with outdoor pools, just like Cabrillo, and they will be open to everyone to swim. We partner with you throughout the school year to provide free swim for our students, and I can’t tell you how appreciative our parents are for this.”

Community Hospital
In a 9-0 vote, the council also approved a grant agreement between the City and the Community Hospital Long Beach Foundation for $1 million for reimbursement of predevelopment costs the City incurred to replace and rebuild structures located at 1720 Termino Ave., 1760 Termino Ave. and 4111 Wilton St., to continue operating an acute-care hospital on those properties, which the City owns.

Additionally, the council approved an agreement with Perkins and Will Corporation for hospital facility architectural design and consulting services, in an amount not to exceed $1 million.

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will be Tuesday, April 9, at 5pm in council chamber, 333 W. Ocean Blvd.