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Housing advocates target Long Beach in latest crusade for rent control

Tenants advocates in Long Beach are launching a campaign to push for rent control in their city. Scott Olson/Getty Images

Long Beach housing advocates are planning to put the issue of rent control before city voters next year in hopes of reining in fast-rising housing costs in one of California's largest cities.

Advocates led by Housing Long Beach on Wednesday formally filed with the city their intent to launch a rent control initiative campaign. Median rent in Long Beach now stands at $2,200 — up 10 percent from the year before, according to real estate site Zillow.

That’s too high for many long-time renters and is forcing some of them out of the city, said Josh Butler, executive director of Housing Long Beach. "Too many renters have been pushed to the brink, and this is the last stand for so many folks," Butler said.

As rents keep rising around California, more cities are seeing a push for rent caps from tenants' groups — as well as opposition from landlords.

Long Beach advocates are modeling their effort after a successful campaign in the Bay Area city of Richmond, where voters passed a rent control ballot measure in 2016. So did voters in Mountain View, home to Microsoft.

Statewide, housing advocates are working to expand rent control as the affordability crisis continues unabated. A proposed ballot initiative would repeal the state Costa-Hawkins Act that limits how many homes can have their rents capped to those built after 1995.

Meanwhile, state Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) has a pending bill that would accomplish the same thing. A spokesman said Wednesday that Bloom is considering what impact the proposed ballot measure will have on his bill.

Landlord attorney Linda Hollenbeck, who is based in Long Beach, predicts there will be little traction for rent control there. But she adds: "Rent control is completely unnecessary in any city. If the rents are too high, they’ll come down."

Hollenbeck, who sits on the board of the California Apartment Association, said under rent control, landlords won’t have the money to upkeep their properties.

A recent study by economists at Stanford University looking at San Francisco's rent control policy has "has actually fueled the gentrification (in the city), the exact opposite of the policy’s intended goal" by spurring landlords to convert their rentals into owner-occupied units or condominiums.

To get their initiative on the Long Beach municipal ballot, housing advocates will need to collect nearly 27,000 signatures from registered voters, according to the Long Beach City Clerk's office.

Housing advocates in Glendale recently attempted to launch an initiative campaign for rent control in their city, but filing irregularities invalidated their petition.