Long Beach, News

Long Beach councilwoman supports strengthening Mello Act

In the face of soaring rent fees and a shortage of homes that leaves many on the streets, Long Beach Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce has supported strengthening the Mello Act in order to help provide more affordable housing.

Pearce, who oversees District 2 in Long Beach, said at a City Council meeting on Feb. 21 that the city needs to identify a funding source for affordable housing production, which the Mello Act can help do. District 2 includes a significant portion of the coastal zone in Long Beach, which stretches from the Pike to the San Gabriel River and as far into the city as the Colorado Lagoon.

The Mello Act, also known as section 65590 of the California Government Code, seeks to preserve and increase affordable housing in California’s coastal zone, which consists of land that is 1,000 yards from the sea’s main high tide line and includes seaward areas until the state’s outer limit of jurisdiction. Though Cal State Long Beach is not within the coastal zone, many housing units seaward from campus are.

“A critical part of addressing our city’s housing crisis is not only producing more affordable units, but preserving the affordability of our current ones,” Pearce said.

Pearce said that preserving and developing housing units should not cost the displacement of residents.

She supports strengthening the act by increasing the in-lieu fee, a fee used to pay for public services in the development that developers pay for one-for-one housing replacement, the act of providing a housing unit per new development, is a way to do this. In order to accurately reflect the cost of building affordable housing units and meet affordability needs, Pearce said that the in-lieu fee should be increased from $30,000 per unit to the range of $250,000 to $450,000 per unit.

In order to preserve affordable housing, units occupied by people whose income does not exceed 120 percent of the area median income will not be authorized for conversion or demolition. The act also classifies units as occupied if they were lived in within a year of application for conversion or demolition.  Developers would have to create new affordable housing developments within the same city or county, either in the coastal zone or within three miles of it, in order to receive conversion or demolition permits.

The act’s requirements apply to any housing developments within local coastal programs, planning tools used for guiding coastal zone development. It states that housing units must be useable within three years of when work on the new development began.

“We have a shortage of affordable housing,” Housing Long Beach Executive Director Josh Butler said. “We have not built to meet the need.”

Butler stated that residents on affordable housing waitlists may take up to five years to find a unit because there are not enough already available.

Evictions done to avoid providing replacement housing can let a local government deny a permit to convert or demolish a building. An eviction made within a year prior to the application for conversion or demolition may be presumed to have been made for this reason. It then becomes the developer’s responsibility to provide evidence that this was not the case.

Pearce said that both preservation and production need to be talked about together, stating that the average affordable unit takes about four years to construct and residents cannot wait that long to be housed. She said that by strengthening the Mello Act, affordable housing production and the preservation of affordability in Long Beach coastal neighborhoods can both be encouraged and funded.

Butler stated that he believes inclusionary housing can help increase the number of affordable units built as it comes with its own in-lieu fee that developers must pay, but said that he believes Housing Long Beach would support Pearce’s effort.

“We should be identifying city owned property in the coastal zone,” Butler said. “I think we should be looking for housing and livelihood for folks in all parts of the city.”

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