Persistent Gentrification in Long Beach Increases Student Homelessness and Debt

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As his Santa Ana family faces eviction, a young man stoically says, “I can just live in the van.” Like his family, many consider housing as something only those with money can buy. Others think it should be a right, but legal protections against evictions vary city by city. With new waves of development, the displacement of residents in neighborhoods, such as Long Beach and Santa Ana, has become a civil rights issue in which people of color are disproportionally affected. Neighborhoods are making vigorous efforts to protect families from displacement, which generates a constant stress that threatens public health. In response, some small property owners feel vilified and, fearing the eventual inability to evict problem tenants, are selling to developers. Planners say the long-term solution is an increase in affordable housing and homeownership, but developers push for market-rate housing. Tensions rise as longtime community members are evicted, and cities invest in infrastructure that favors progress over people.
Ch. 4: Impact

Launching September 13, City Rising is a multimedia documentary program that traces gentrification and displacement through a lens of historical discriminatory laws and practices. Fearing the loss of their community’s soul, residents are gathering into a movement, not just in California, but across the nation as the rights to property, home, community and the city are taking center stage in a local and global debate.Learn more.

This article was produced in collaboration with VoiceWaves, a Long Beach youth-led journalism and media-training project. The youth, ages 15-25, are learning to report, write and create digital journalism content.

Over the past six years, the average rent in Long Beach has risen by an alarming 55 percent, from $1,392 to $2,164. This can be contributed to gentrification since the vacancy rate in Long Beach is a measly 2 percent.

“Long Beach is the largest community of renters on the West Coast without any form of rent control,” said Shanna Llewellyn, a moving specialist with AIM Living Services, which helps low-income and disabled individuals with housing. “The high population and old buildings, high poverty and low-income is a perfect base for gentrification.”

Llewellyn says she has difficulty time finding housing for her clients because “there’s nothing there.”

One of the constituencies affected severely by gentrification are college students who are just starting out.

Rashida Crutchfield, an Assistant Professor of Social Work at California State University, Long Beach, is currently conducting a study on CSU student homelessness that will be released in January.

“They’re working several jobs in order to make ends meet in addition to going to school,” said Crutchfield. “They come in hoping that financial aid will cover everything and they find out it will not.”

It now costs a CSULB student $12,644 to room and board on campus, an increase of $1,800 over the 2009-2010 academic year.

A report Crutchfield helped write in 2015 commissioned by California State University Chancellor Tim White shows that about 9 percent of students within the CSU System are homeless while a fifth of them are food insecure. Over 56,000 students nationally and about 10,000 in California alone identified as homeless on their 2013-2014 FASFA. However, those numbers might be larger given that many students who are homeless don’t want to admit to being so.

“There are students who won’t fill out the FASFA because they don’t see themselves as homeless or they don’t want to be identified that way,” said Crutchfield. “I’ve talked to students who are living in their cars who say ‘I’m not homeless because my car is my home.’”

A recent report by the L.A. Times shows that homelessness in L.A. County has jumped a “staggering” 23 percent, with the sharpest increase being among 18-24 year olds (64 percent).

Crutchfield says one of the biggest misperceptions people have about student homelessness is that it’s an issue of mishandling money.

“That is absolutely not the case,” said Crutchfield. “I can be an expert in budgeting, but if I don’t have any money I can’t budget.”

The Professor says that homelessness can have severe psychological effects on students.

“A student who has to think about where they’re going to sleep tomorrow has a really hard time focusing on their educational goals,” said Crutchfield. “If you’re sleeping on someone’s couch and you don’t know if you can sleep there tomorrow it can be extremely stressful.”

Carol Menard Fulthorp, Assistant Dean of Students at CSULB, says that the campus serves over 180 students who identify as homeless. She cites the many programs offered to homeless students on campus, from their food pantry to emergency housing to counseling services to their $500 emergency grant.

“Student success is not just about doing well in school, it’s about the student being healthy and well when they get that degree,” said Mernard-Fulthorp. “A student that is coming to campus experiencing some type of emergency crisis needs someone who cares and listens to them and can help them with immediate needs.”

While she touts CSULB as a model for helping students who are homeless, Liz Waite, a student at CSULB who herself is homeless, says the administration doesn’t go far enough in helping students like herself.

“I came very close to dropping out on account of extreme financial aid difficulties,” said Waite. “Years of debt does not justify what the school offers, two weeks in a bed, twelve meals and $500.”

Waite says she is working with student organizations in order to start a student culture that embraces and supports students who are going through homelessness.

“I want CSULB to lead on how homeless students are treated and considered,” said Waite.

While Crutchfield also sees CSULB as a model for student homelessness, she cites disinvestment from the state as an issue.

“If we had all the resources in the world we could do anything for these students,” said Crutchfield. 

Top Image: Al Pavangkanan/Flickr/Creative Commons

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