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Federal funding for Long Beach Section 8 housing threatened

Council creates incentive for landlords in an effort to keep federal funding.

Samantha Diaz, Staff Writer

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Long Beach Section 8 housing voucher recipients received a glimmer of hope in finding places available to rent. The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to begin creating incentive packages for landlords to increase the number of units open to receiving housing vouchers.

The city currently receives $68 million toward the Section 8 program, also known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, that helps subsidize rent for low-income individuals. Recently, the lease-up rate, or the percentage of vouchers issued that actually get used, dropped from 98 to 85.

This drop in lease-up rates puts Long Beach in danger of losing federal funding towards its housing programs. Since the city has an overflow of vouchers that are now not in use, the money may be reallocated to different cities with a need for more vouchers.

Vice Mayor Rex Richardson claims that the drop in lease-up rate is due to a misunderstanding between the Housing Choice Voucher Program and landlords.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult for subsidized tenants to find housing. There are over 1,000 families and individuals who hold a voucher but are unable to find a landlord who [is] willing to rent to them, or find a Section 8 vacancy,” Richardson said.

Some of the misunderstanding that the council attempted to clear up for landlords Tuesday was regarding whether or not voucher holders would follow the same rules as regular renters, including vacating procedures if they were accepted as tenants. Another misconception Richardson claimed is holding landlords back is the idea that voucher recipients are criminals and poor renters. City staff says that the majority of voucher holders are low-income families who are subject to a vetting process prior to move-in.  

“Not everyone that holds Section 8 is a drug dealer or a gang member or some kind of criminal,” said Jorge Rivera, a member of LIBRE, a housing advocacy group for Long Beach residents. “We do need to educate the community and those property owners that are still holding on to some of those myths about Section 8 tenants and maybe educate them and open up their minds a bit.”

To retain federal funding, council hopes to create incentive packages to make renting out to Section 8 voucher recipients more beneficial to owners.

Landlords were complaining at the meeting about the length of time it takes for the inspection and vetting process to be completed, during which time they are responsible for keeping the unit empty and losing almost a month’s worth of rent. Owners also complained of harsh inspections and required updating of units, as well as needing to repair any damages caused by voucher-holding renters.

The council discussed the possibility of giving landlords money to go toward the Housing Choice Voucher inspections, keeping the unit empty and paying for any damages. It also discussed the idea of expediting the inspection process by scheduling as many inspections as possible on the same day.

The city will be looking at how Los Angeles County and the city of L.A. deals with its housing voucher programs and come back to council in 30 to 45 days with more ideas for incentive packages.

City council also addressed the issue of illegally dumped items on the roadside. Councilman Robert Uranga of the 7th district moved to conduct a study to look into where in the city the items are being dumped the most and methods the city can use to decrease illegal dumping.

Current Long Beach policy states that when an item such as a sofa, mattress or television set is dumped on the street, it becomes the responsibility of the adjacent neighbor to remove the item. Uranga stated that most times the adjacent neighbor has nothing to do with the item dumped and that Council should look into updating the city policy.

Richardson supported the study, saying that the two freeways and over 20 on-ramps make the 9th district especially susceptible to illegal dumping.

“The more work we can do with our neighborhood associations to have a strategy that really targets these highly susceptible neighborhoods, I think that’s the right direction,” said Richardson.

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo offered her support for the study on the condition that the council will also look into updating and fixing the “Go Long Beach” app, which residents can use to report incidents of illegal dumping. Mungo said that she would even be willing to “have some college kids design an app that’s more effective.”

The council discussed the possibility of hiring a waste enforcement officer to help deal with the problem, saying that the Public Works department in Long Beach needs more resources. Currently, Public Works picks up about 50-60 mattresses a day.

“It’s also clear to me that we do not have enough resources when it comes to cleaning the city,” said Mayor Robert Garcia. “It’s simply not acceptable to have litter and trash and waste in people’s alleys and in the neighborhood.”

City staff will come back to the council in 120 days with data on how other cities deal illegal dumping.

Council also approved city fees for the airport, parking and the Long Beach Public Library.

Ride sharing companies like Lyft and Uber will now be able to drop passengers off at the airport curbside for a drop-off and pick-up fee of $3. This is part of an effort from the Long Beach Airport to increase methods of revenue that will eventually go toward infrastructure improvement.

The city will also look into splitting parking permits into evening and day parking surrounding the airport in an effort to increase the amount of spots available. It will also decrease the amount of cars parked in residential areas and hotels from people parking over the 72 hour limit in order to avoid airport parking fees.

The city county also dropped library fees on CDs and DVDs and they will now be rented out to library card holders for no charge – just like books. This change is estimated to bring the city $1.3 million in revenue, according to city staff.

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