Long Beach Tops Nation in Number of Renters

Steve Propes

In the early to mid 1980s, everything changed when it came to housing in Long Beach. Welcome to the “cracker box” generation.

Unless you’ve lived in Long Beach for over 30 years, you might well not recall when the city allowed the construction of “cracker box” apartments and the controversy that followed. The city council, with help of city staff, determined that higher home prices and lack of housing had created an immediate need to increase housing. But at what cost? Single family homes were razed so that multi-story “cracker boxes” could fill an entire lot, with little thought to parking and the consequences of density. Meaning way more renters.

Only 21 U.S. cities are “renter-majority” according to U.S. Census Data for 400 cities with a population of 100,000 or more. Of the rest, 206 of 400 cities have a population of at least 33 percent renters. The remainder are apparently safely in the majority homeowner category. For the complete list, go to: https://www.abodo.com/blog/where-renting-trumps-owning.

High placing cities with a large college population versus residential include College Station-Bryan, Texas at 59.1 percent and Athens-Clarke County, Georgia at 57.5 percent. In fourth place is a military town, Killeen, Texas at 56 percent.

Then comes the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metro at 53.9 percent. At first blush, Long Beach is apparently No. 4 in these “renter-majority” 21 cities, being part of the Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim metro area. However, breaking Long Beach out of the pack, at 59.8 percent renters, Long Beach is clearly the No. 1 renter city in America.

Other California cities on the list are Merced, Salinas, Santa Barbara and San Francisco, the latter two with very expensive real estate.

How did Long Beach get there? Two possible suspects. A major four year university that attracts an enrollment of over 37,000. And the dreaded “cracker box” apartments that began popping up in the mid-1980s .

At least 300 Southern California bungalows mainly between Fourth and Anaheim streets to the north and south, and Alamitos and Redondo avenues to the east and west were razed to make way for new “cracker box” construction.

L.A. Radio Studio’s Mike Stark of Lakewood owned in a small bungalow on the 900 block of Raymond Avenue. “What I saw happen at the time was the rezoning of residential areas to include the ‘cracker box apartments,’” Stark recalled. “What was a single family dwelling, suddenly became a multi-unit apartment with just the bare amount of parking provided for each apartment. We had an entire group of apartments looking down on our backyard from their balconies. I can’t remember the city’s logic for allowing this, but it degraded a lot of neighborhoods all over Long Beach.”

“It destroyed the whole fabric of the community,” then-City Councilman Alan Lowenthal said. In time, with property values dropping and the rental market more competitive, rents went down with reduced screening of new tenants and slashed maintenance costs, as Lowenthal observed. Some were abandoned by their owners and banks foreclosed on the properties.

The majority of the current stock of single family homes (17,784) were built in the 1950s. A decade later, during the 60s, most of renter occupied units (18,484) were built while single family unit construction dipped dramatically to 6,856.

At the start of the “cracker box” era, between 1970 and 2000, multi unit construction exceeded single family construction by almost three to one. In the 1970s, 15,722 multi-family buildings went up. In the 1980s, that number was cut by one third to 10,440 new multi family buildings. Only 10,000 new single family homes went up in that two decade span, almost one third of the multi family buildings.

However, though problematic, “cracker boxes” didn’t amount to a game changer. With a population hovering around 500,000 and housing units at 174,742, that means an average of about three people occupy the typical Long Beach unit.

Then things began to turn around. In the first decade of the 21st century, the most recent period with available statistics, multi-family housing stock actually decreased by 578 units, while single-family housing stock increased by 1,021.

As far as CSULB students are concerned, all freshmen not living at home are required to live on campus, as far as it reasonable, cutting the local renter population by about one quarter. Though many of the remainder live off-campus, as with city college students, many still live at home, in both cases, making their impact on the rental market minimal.

According to the website: http://www.towncharts.com/California/Housing/Long-Beach-city-CA-Housing-..., “the 2007-2011 American Community Survey reported that Long Beach had 48,526 residents who were college students, some attending college in Long Beach, some attending college elsewhere. Approximately two-thirds of city college students are part-time, many of whom live with parents. Thereby, the housing need of city college students is not necessarily considered significant.”

It all amounts to what challenges Long Beach in the decades to come.




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