It seems folks in Long Beach won’t vote on an affordable-housing bond anytime soon.
The City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 7, opted not to vote on an apparently controversial proposal from Ninth District Councilman Rex Richardson that would have directed the city attorney to draft a resolution to place a $298 million bond on the November ballot.
Instead, a substitute motion by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price to explore funding options at the state and federal levels to address the issue passed by a 5-4 vote. Council members Mary Zendejas (First), Jeannine Pearce (Second), Roberto Uranga (Seventh) and Richardson voted against the measure.
The vote came after a different motion of Richardson’s, which he put forward as a compromise as it became clear his initial idea did not have support from a majority of his colleagues, failed 4-5 along the same lines. That motion would have asked city staff to study a potential bond, as well as the other potential funding sources Price identified.
The votes came after more than three hours of discussion among members of the public and the folks behind the dais.
According to Vice Mayor and Sixth District Councilman Dee Andrews, 70 people had signed up to speak on the topic during public comment. The vast majority of those supported taking the next step to place the bond measure on the ballot.
Christine Petit, the executive director of the nonprofit Long Beach Forward, said the city is in a “severe housing and homelessness crisis” and it was past time for the council to move toward finding a new way to fund solutions.
“The time is now for our city to proactively handle this crisis,” she said. “Actually, it was yesterday.”
In 2019, the city’s point-in-time count of the homeless population revealed an estimated 1,894 people were homeless in Long Beach; the 2020 count is set for the end of January.
Long Beach, meanwhile, saw a 28% rise increase in rent citywide over roughly a decade, according to a 222-page report the city released in 2018. And the rental vacancy rate shrunk from 5.2% to 3.8% during that time, the report said.
“People we are fighting for here are homeless. They are people who need to have a decent place to live,” said Hollis Stewart, a Long Beach resident and homeowner. “I’ll pay the tax for it, and I hope a lot of others will, too.”
Although Richardson emphasized that the $298 million in his proposal was flexible and could be adjusted, that type of bond would have required the median single-family homeowner to pay about $7 per month. People who do not own property would not pay that fee.
A handful of others who spoke during public comment weren’t as keen on the idea.
Matthew Taylor, another resident, said he doesn’t own a home, but he worried the bond would make purchasing a house even less affordable.
He also questioned whether funding more housing would actually address homelessness.
“There are serious mental health and drug issues plaguing Southern California,” he said. “This will do nothing to address those needs. These are different issues.”
Although the vast majority of people in the council chambers Tuesday appeared to favor moving forward to place a bond on the ballot — the panel would have had to vote to do so once the city attorney drew up a formal resolution — the council members who voted against Richardson’s motion said the folks in their districts feel differently.
Councilman Daryl Supernaw, who represents the Fourth District, estimated that 97 percent of the people he’s heard from opposed the idea.
“We haven’t had anything with that type of opposition that I can remember,” he said.
Price said her residents felt similarly.
“Before we ask property owners to pay more, we should find out what is available to us,” she said to justify her own, ultimately successful motion.
Price, Supernaw and the rest of the majority opposed to Richardson’s motion emphasized that they supported the goal of finding more funding to build housing; but they disagreed, they said, with the idea of pursuing a bond before sufficiently researching other options.
Although Richardson acknowledged that it appeared his council colleagues were not prepared to take the action he hoped they would, he assured those in the audience that he would not stop advocating on the issue.
“Hope is not lost,” he said. “This is not the end of the conversation. We can continue to work together.”