Walking through the Long Beach Exchange, Rex Richardson can’t go more than five steps without being recognized. Granted he’s a resident of North Long Beach near the popular food eatery and was recently elected mayor – the first Black mayor.
Several people walked up to congratulate him as he made his way to the boba shop for a drink.
Born on the Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill., Richardson and his mom moved to California when he was 11 years old. His mother being a single parent, worked hard to get the family out of housing insecurities.
Richardson said this gave him a sense of the reality of what it takes to face adversity and overcome what is one of the city’s biggest problems: homelessness.
“When I came to Long Beach, I had an apartment for $850 a month,” Richardson said, drinking his peach tea. “Today for somebody to get an apartment it’s $2,100 a month.”
His goal for the city as mayor is to bridge the racial wealth gap and more importantly to make housing affordable for the homeless population of Long Beach.
“Affordable housing is the ability to live in a home without paying more than 50% of your income on rent,” Richardson said. “We have a problem with income having not kept pace and we also have a problem with the rising cost of housing.”
As a child, Richardson moved around from state to state, one school after the other which he said affected his performance, and put a strain on his social relationships. In total, Richardson attended 14 public schools in five different states.
In 2014, Richardson began his work for the city being the youngest member ever elected to Long Beach City Council. Two years later, he became the city’s youngest vice mayor at 32 years old and was reelected to the council in 2018.
Throughout his time serving the city, Richardson’s work has had a prolific output and major successes in supporting the transitional youth at their most vulnerable age and the homeless population.
Richardson said he was the driving force in the development of the Atlantic Farms Bridge Community housing which opened in 2020. The community will be an additional space with the new village-style development on Atlantic Avenue in North Long Beach in partnership with Century Housing.
The municipal housing shelter serves the homeless population in North Long Beach by providing shelter and permanent housing with a 125-person capacity. There, people have access to mobile units, women’s dorms, men’s dorms and a cafeteria.
“Residents want to see us address housing and homelessness together, not just one,” Richardson said. “These are people’s brothers and sisters on the streets, these are working families living out of cars.”
Meanwhile, rent costs continue to rise, especially in traditionally affordable neighborhoods. Over the past five years, rents rose by 40% in several neighborhoods.
Overall, 43.7% of people surveyed in 2022 reported unemployment or financial reasons as the main contributing factor to their homelessness, according to the homeless count.
Richardson strongly stated that social interactions within a community are one of the more positive aspects that he’s seen in his time on the city council. That is one of the benefits he thinks will come out of combining the ABC housing with the additional plot of land next to it where Century Housing will create more affordable housing.
“The data is very clear and the sentiment of the public is very clear that they want to see us do better and more,” he said. “The more we can build housing that’s affordable, the more we can ensure that the wellbeing of people from the mental health standpoint and dignity standpoint is better.”
Some Long Beach State students, specifically students who are studying abroad at the university like Fitim Krasniq, say they initially found it difficult to find affordable housing.
“I actually rented an Airbnb which was so overpriced and the earliest day to move into the Airbnb was a month after I already arrived, so I needed a place to stay fast,” Krasniq said. “Fortunately, I found my landlord’s place where I paid in total $3000 for three months with all the fees.
The reality for people in Long Beach is as the cost-of-living increases at a high rate, wages either stay stagnant or are not keeping up adding to the homeless crisis.
“We have to make sure that we have jobs that provide a living wage and ensure that we build and invest in housing that is structurally affordable,” Richardson said with a strong emphasis.