In Closed Session

Barring some unforeseen legal challenge or a mass change of heart, the City Council will pass a new Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance next week.

Most of the debate took place a month ago. Council members came up with the idea that landlords should be forced to pay renters to move when the landlords want to renovate and hike rents — or simply hike rents.

Clearly, this is an incentive for landlords to keep current tenants, and don't try to raise rents too much, too fast. But don't say rent control, because those are bad words. At least voters statewide said last November that they were bad words.

Unless you live under the proverbial rock, you know that Long Beach and the rest of California is struggling to find affordable housing for their residents. And with an ultra-tight rental market, at least some landlords are continuing to hike rates to what the market will bear.

Short of paying for massive housing projects, there's no easy answer to this problem, at least for governments. Developers can be required to set aside a portion of each housing development to allow for affordable — as opposed to market rate — units. A similar requirement could let the developers pay into a housing fund (for those massive housing projects) and keep all their units at whatever price they want.

That approach, by the way, was exactly how Long Beach and other cities built up housing funds when the Redevelopment Agency was in business. When giving land away, or selling it at vastly reduced cost, there's leeway to add such requirements.

But as far as I am aware, the affordable housing set-aside has yet to return to Long Beach. Hey, when you're trying to convince developers to build 10,000 more rentals, condos, etc., you don't put a bunch of obstacles in the way.

Still, the forces advocating for people struggling to pay the current rent, let alone much higher rents after renovations, are strong and have powerful arguments. So the Tenant Relocation Assistance approach was born.

Here's what the ordinance says in regards to the new law's purpose:

"The purpose of this Chapter is to promote housing stability in the City by providing for landlord-paid relocation payments and assistance to residential tenants who are displaced by no fault of their own. Many tenants are at risk of being displaced from their housing due to, among other things, large increases in rent that they are unable to pay, or by substantial rehabilitation of their unit necessitating vacation of the units and bear the full costs of relocation themselves. This Chapter addresses these impacts by requiring landlords of rental dwelling units in the City to provide relocation assistance payments under certain circumstances."

That assistance comes to two months of rent — with the exact amount calculated through a complex formula. The idea is to give evicted people enough money to at least have a chance at renting someplace else.

Charlie Parkin's City Attorney's Office has opined that this ordinance does not constitute rent control. But, the first condition when this tenant assistant kicks in if "Tenant receives a notice or notices of a rent increase for the same unit which totals ten percent or more in any 12-month period," and the tenant doesn't agree in writing to pay the increased rent."

I read that as control of rent increases, if not rent itself.

The other primary condition when the tenant assistance has to be paid is if the renter is "in good standing," but is evicted to make way for "rehabilitation" of a unit. This is the dreaded "gentrification" we hear so much about these days, with landlords pushing poorer people out of a neighborhood to attract higher paying renters.

I have to ask, when did it become a crime to improve a neighborhood? Affordable housing is important (although I have trouble accepting that it is a "right"), but livable neighborhoods are important too. I remember when every social advocate and every law enforcement agency ascribed to the "broken window" theory — fix the broken windows right away or expect to have more broken windows, literally and figuratively.

There are loopholes in this law, as is almost always the case. For example, anything built and receiving a certificate of occupancy after Feb. 1, 1995, is not liable for the two months' rent provision.

It will be interesting to see if this ordinance is challenged in court, as almost everything is these days. The motivation is hard to argue, but the burden is, I suspect, worth arguing about, at least in property owners' eyes.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments