Making housing happen in Pasadena and elsewhere

27 Nov

While my husband was recently in Washington, DC, with 325 Quakers petitioning our government to cut the military budget and devote more funds to social programs (see, I went with my fellow housing advocates to the Pasadena Planning Commission to make sure that the voices of the poor are heard, and the concerns of ALL Pasadenans are addressed, when it comes to the most basic human need: housing. We return on Wednesday of this week to see if they will use the language we have proposed.

Here’s a letter we wrote to the Planning Commission to encourage our city officials to include all income levels in the 8 principles that will guide Pasadena for the next 10 years.  In this letter you will find some excellent proposals for creating affordable housing here in Pasadena and elsewhere. (Also, for more about affordable housing, check out my new revised book here.)

Nov. 19, 2012

Dear Planning Commissioners,

We are advocates from the Affordable Housing Services, All Saints members, Door of Hope, ECPAC—the Ecumenical Council for Pasadena Area Congregations, the Elizabeth House, Family Promise, Interdenominational Alliance, Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, the Mennonite Church, Pacific Clinics, Unite Here and the Urban Village.  We would like to take the opportunity to thank you for the work you continue to do to discern the wise use of our city’s land, and the time you have given to update the general plan. We also thank you for encouraging Michelle White last month to consider how the 8 Guiding Principles could have language that would include housing for all income levels within our city.
The issue of affordable housing is one of great consideration and consequence to those who live and work in the city of Pasadena. We are aware that the 20,000 residents of our city are spending more than they can afford on housing costs (The federal standard is that households should not spend more than a third of our income on housing costs) An additional grievance is that a number of those who can’t afford housing work for the City of Pasadena and even grew up here, but can no longer afford to live here.
What we currently know:
·           Those we serve in the various non-profits we represent would become stable, contributing citizens of our community if they could afford to live in Pasadena. Where they work and close to family and their houses of worship—their meaningful support systems.
·           Pasadena has a huge disparity in income. Supporting high-end restaurants, hotels and amenities, beautiful lawns, clean homes, and dry-cleaned clothes requires a vast workforce. They deserve to live in the city where they serve.
·           Commuting creates traffic—one of the biggest issues we hear about. If you ask most people why they live where they do, they will tell you it’s because of affordability. A great example is Portland, Oregon, which has made 50% of the housing in the downtown area affordable, resulting not only in lowered traffic, but a lower carbon footprint.
·            Pasadena is a world-class city and we demonstrate an example to our region, state and nation. We need to make sure that this example is inclusive with a diverse range of socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities. This is what makes for a rich experience in our great city. We have a history as a mixed-income community with the wide streets with large home and maids quarters, and back houses, and narrow streets with smaller homes. This mixed income heritage must be preserved.
Yet, we are losing affordable housing faster than we are building it. We MUST preserve this essential precious resource and continue to create policies that will both preserve as well as support new affordable units. There are many ways that we can do this while creating a win-win for developers, landlords and more. For example:
1. Create a Community Land Trust like that of the South LA Trust.  This  Trust is addressing  the mass displacement of community residents around USC; all the units built on the on Trust land remain permanently affordable—no ending of HUD Contacts (typically 20-45 years) and affordability covenants which has secured in places like Castle Green ( that need to be paid by the city each time they expire).  A Community Land Trust is similar to our Inclusionary housing ordinance in Pasadena which is permanently affordable, any land banking the city may land bank  could be placed in a trust. The California Community Foundation has an LA County wide trust that the city could partner with. Over 200 cities in the US are helping to create or partnering with Community Land Trusts.
2. Work with the state to adjust how tax credits are utilized, in a way that landlords who are already making their units affordable are rewarded. Tax Credits could help them improve their properties while retaining affordability. This could also enable them to gain access to greening their apartments to address environmental concerns.
3. Legalize second units.  Like Sierra Madre, Culver City and Santa Cruz, work with landlords with illegal second units to help them become legal in exchange for affordability covenants. Additionally, allow new units on properties less than 15,000 square feet.
4. Strengthen our Inclusionary Housing Ordinance. Raise levels so that around transportation corridors the percentage is 20% or 25%; additionally lower the car spaces needed as close-by public transportation will help make up for this.  (Parking is now of the most expensive parts of any housing).
5. Find ways to fully fund our Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Create impact fees, recordation fees and other means to fund the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The list can go on and on. These are not impossible ideas. We need to see possibilities and create guiding principles for our general plan that will support these kinds of visionary attainable goals over the next ten years.
The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group has taken the challenge of Richard Norton to find language that would better express the importance of affordable housing for all residents, not just for the labor force as it is now stated within the concept of social equity. That is one step in the right direction, but is too limiting. We also took the liberty to adjust the language to make the guiding principles more culturally and ethnically inclusive.
We need to consider all Pasadena residents, particularly seniors and the disabled, like those who were unprotected when they were unlawfully evicted from Pasadena Manor. When these matters are properly addressed, only then will we move toward true social equity in Pasadena.
Please carefully look over the work we have done and consider our recommendations. We appreciate your important role in shaping our great city’s future, and we thank you for the challenge and opportunity to participate in this with you.
We look forward to attending the next planning session on Nov. 28th after you have reviewed our suggested changes. We are eager to hear what you think, talk on the phone or meet in person if you have any questions.
The Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group
Contact: Michelle White  (626) 296-3100  or Jill Shook at  (626) 675-1316

If you wish to see the language we proposed send me an email at

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