Downtown hi-rise

The construction crews for Shoreline Gateway were working on the 35th floor, the highest residential and amenity level of the project in September.

Long Beach will soon require the developers of new housing projects with 10 or more units in the Downtown and Midtown neighborhoods to include affordable units — or pay into a fund to develop affordable units.

The City Council approved the ordinance at its Tuesday, Jan. 19, meeting. The item must come back to the panel for another reading before being signed into law.

The policy, known as inclusionary housing, would allow for a three-year phase-in period for developers to adjust to the new requirements. Rental projects submitted for approval in 2021 would have to designate 5% of units as affordable for very low-income households, while those submitted for approval in 2022 would have to designate 6%, and those submitted in 2023 or after would have to designate 11%.

Ownership projects submitted for approval in 2021, meanwhile, would have to designate 4% of units as affordable for moderate-income households, while projects submitted in 2022 would have designate 5%, and those submitted in 2023 or after would have to designate 10%.

The law would also allow the developers of all ownership projects, as well as the owners of rental projects with 20 or fewer units, to pay into an affordable housing fund instead of providing the units on-site.

Housing activists who spoke during public comment said they appreciated the city’s commitment to the policy overall but listed several concerns they had about the details of the proposed law.

Some of the changes advocates called for included:

Requiring affordable units built according to the law to remain affordable in perpetuity;

Ensuring units built with the affordable housing fund are designated as affordable for people with very low incomes;

Ensuring that the affordable housing fund is used to create new units instead of rehabilitating old units or subsidizing market-rate units;

Automatically adjusting the fee that developers could pay instead of providing units to remain in line with the housing market on an annual basis; and

Removing the three-year phase-in for developers.

“Inclusionary housing and no net loss are crucial solutions on the dual fronts of the COVID pandemic and racial justice,” said Elsa Tung, a land-use program manager for Long Beach Forward, adding that renters in Long Beach are primarily people of color.

“Let’s make good,” she added, “on the city’s promise in its racial reconciliation report to adopt, quote, ‘a strong inclusionary housing policy.’”

First District Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who has been a proponent of the policy, was amenable to most of those requests. But because the changes would be substantial enough to require the ordinance to come back to the panel for another first reading, she instead asked her fellow council members to support her in passing the ordinance as written and request city staff return to the City Council within 120 days with recommendations to make nearly all of the suggested changes, with the notable exception of eliminating the three-year phase-in.

“I really don’t want to further delay this inclusionary housing ordinance,” she said. “I understand how significant this step is for the city.”

Her colleagues agreed.

“We need this now,” recently elected Second District Councilwoman Cindy Allen said. “This legislation addresses our acute housing shortage by establishing affordable housing requirements. It also ensures affordable housing is protected and secure for future generations.”

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