* * KHMER GIRLS IN ACTION PRESS RELEASE * *
For Immediate Release: Mon., Nov. 15th, 2021
The Fight to Stay Housed in Long Beach: Community Leaders Demand an End to Structural Racism in Housing in the 2021-2029 Housing Element
This Tuesday, November 16, 2021, organizations, residents and council members will weigh on the Proposed 2021-2029 Long Beach Housing Element. The plan, revised and renewed every 8 years, details how the City will meet the demands of the housing crisis, which includes identifying sites and a comprehensive housing plan for the 26,502 new housing units needed, the majority of which is supposed to be affordable housing. Community leaders from Khmer Girls in Action, Black Agency, United Cambodian Community, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Long Beach Residents Empowered, and Long Beach Forward urge electeds to plan development without displacement, heal the harms of redlining and structural racism that are embedded in housing development, and keep residents affordably and equitably housed in the second largest city in LA County, both during and beyond the recovery years of the pandemic.
Canvassers at Khmer Girls in Action contacted voters this fall and out of 1,765 voters they spoke with, 59% of voters did not know where to go for housing resources. Field Organizer Amy Horn recalls that of the people who did know where to go, there were significant mentions that Section 8 case workers provided important housing information like housing rights. In another poll, 868 voters said they wanted to be involved in city development plans. Alexis Chhem, one of the phone bankers and a Long Beach community leader, moved 13 times by the time they turned 20. The stress of not having a stable place to go home to after school caused her to lose focus and fall behind academically. When she was old enough to work, she took a job as a certified nursing assistant to supplement household income. “My parents worked 2 to 3 jobs yet they still struggled to make ends meet. I worked afterschool from 4 PM unti 11 PM. It was exhausting.” When the pandemic hit, everyone in her household lost their jobs. According to data outlined in the 2021-2029 Housing Element, 61% of Long Beach residents are renters, the majority of whom are people of color, and approximately half of the population is cost-burdened, spending 30% or more of their earnings on rent. Black women are the most rent-burdened population in Long Beach. A severe housing shortage combined with skyrocketing costs, leads to overcrowded housing. 27% of Latinx households and 15% of Asian Pacific Islander households live in overcrowded housing, compared to 2% of white households. During a time where there are no local interventions like rent control (beyond the statewide rent cap codified in the Tenant Protection Act of 2019), and in a speculative, corporate-driven housing market, lower-income renters, who live predominantly in Central, West, and North Long Beach, are vulnerable to getting displaced, either directly or indirectly by being priced out. Long Beach cannot solely rely on building its way out of the housing crisis, and more urgent measures like enacting rent control and strengthening the local Just Cause for Eviction Ordinance are needed to immediately stabilize renters, the majority of Long Beach. “We are definitely still living in the past, the past is here. It’s here, it’s still not gone because of all this racism and discrimination that has been taking place in our Black, Latino and our most marginalized communities. We are the hardest working people, we are the ones who have made this city great. We are the ones who are working, we have left the grime here by working hard, getting old, and now we are left with not even having a decent apartment to live in that we can afford. The city of Long Beach now has all of these beautiful buildings that can only be enjoyed by those who can afford them and that’s not us the working class. We want and deserve the opportunity to have a decent home that we can afford in the city that we have helped build.” - Community Member, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition Long Beach, like all major U.S. cities, continues to experience the legacy of racist and segregationist housing policies of the 20th century. Racially restrictive covenants were contractual agreements that prohibited the purchase, lease, or occupation of property by people of color. In and around Long Beach, the neighborhoods that employed racially restrictive covenants included East Long Beach, Bixby Knolls, Virginia Country Club, and the City of Lakewood. In addition, “Redlining” was a practice implemented by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and private banks to deny or limit financial loans to certain neighborhoods based on their racial composition. There is a throughline from the Long Beach Redlining map of the 1930s to today’s maps of Long Beach’s poverty, people of color, environmental burden, and life expectancy -- and land use plans like the Land Use Element (2019) and the Housing Element (2021) perpetuate housing segregation and the race-and-place-based disparity of resources and opportunities. James Marks, a lifelong Long Beach resident and co-founder of Black Agency, said, “The Housing Element site map looks like Redlining 2.0, with most housing sites crammed into the previously redlined neighborhoods. Meanwhile, out of 441 sites designated for affordable housing, only 3 are located in East Long Beach.” Marks has also worked in the City of Los Angeles to bridge unhoused residents in South LA to housing resources. From that experience, he recommends a “streets-to-subsidy” program which offers first and last month's rent as well as rental assistance of up to 80%. The support would wean down incrementally and it gave just enough time to stabilize the individual and their household. Other models include matching tenants with landlords and being able to refer people to a network of resources. “I would meet people who lost all hope in the world who came back to me with a picture of their new place. Or they would drop by with their grandson to thank me. Having an ecosystem of support with a community-feel made that possible,” Marks said of his work in LA. In my own hometown of Long Beach, it’s hard to envision what kind of housing infrastructure a city needs when you don’t have an example of what it can look like.” “Now is the time and this is the document for our City to commit to address the systemic and structural racism of past Long Beach real estate developers, financial institutions and City policies by setting concrete goals for housing justice for the majority of our residents who are people of color and renters” said Leanna Noble, downtown resident and LiBRE Interim Program Director. Community leaders will be offering public comment this coming Tuesday. They plan to meet prior to the Council meeting with banners and posters that reflect messages of housing justice that keep communities together. Artwork above by Khmer Girls in Action youth leaders in collaboration with Tidawhitney Lek.