Pasadena’s Racialized History

23 Jun

A brief history of Pasadena’s racialized housing and mixed-income solutions  

by Jill Shook, Executive Director of Making Housing and Community Happen

             Pasadena’s wide streets with larger homes often parallel more narrow streets with smaller dwellings. Stately homes often have a small maid’s quarters within or a granny flat tucked in behind. Charming bungalow courts, first introduced in Pasadena in the turn of the 19th Century, can be seen throughout the city, and now across the US. Pasadena’s street layouts and lot configurations demonstrate a yesteryear of a mixed income community.

             The 1949 US Housing Act allowed for slum clearance but did not follow the 1937 Housing Act’s mandate for a one-for-one replacement of housing cleared.  Across our country areas, especially Black neighborhoods were declared “slums” and bull dozers began their work. The vulnerable had little recourse. This was also true in Pasadena. On Fair Oaks Ave. where Parson’s now sits just below the 2010 Freeway, was once a thriving African American community. To accommodate these changes, Scott United Methodist Church was to Orange Grove Blvd. where it stands today.  The Urban Renewal (sometimes all Nigro Removal) and Redevelopment (RD) programs have left long shadows of both the positive and negative consequences. The results of these national programs are still very evident in Pasadena and across the US. RD funding is what re-built a decaying Old Pasadena, but knowing that such development can cause displacement, this policy wisely required that 20% of all RD funds were to be allocated for building affordable housing. Pasadena’s state lobbyist somehow convinced Sacramento to pass a law that only applied to Pasadena so that the Old Pasadena RD Zone could use that 20% instead for Police and Fire pensions. This law was to sunset in 2014, but by that time, RD statewide had ended and hundreds of millions was forever lost to create affordable housing. Pensions were paid on the backs of the poor.

             The ’49 Act provided funding for new construction, but not for multi-family or rehabbing older units. It also did nothing to prevent redlining. So, the red pin drawn around NW Pasadena found families unable to obtain bank loans to improve their ailing housing stock. This Act also did nothing to prevent segregated neighborhoods. Racially restrictive covenants were allowed. On some of Pasadena’s older home deeds “This home will never be bought or sold to Blacks’ can still be seen crossed out. FHA loans would not provide mortgage insurance to Blacks; therefore, banks would not provide them loans. A Black trash collector who did very well by feeding edible trash to the pigs in his farm in Monrovia, started Family Thrift, so loans could be offered to Blacks.  This later became One United, on the SW corner of Lake and Washington, which has since consolidated with their LA bank on Crenshaw in LA.

             The 1956 Federal Highway Act gave federally funded access to people of means to leave urban cores and build new homes in the suburbs—if the family was white, had transport and the required 10% down for the FHA loan. Therefore, white suburbs like La Canada sprung up across the US. The 210 Freeway was commissioned in the 1950s and was completed in stages up through the 1970s. This freeway sliced though the middle of a vibrant African American business district on N. Lincoln that has never fully recovered. Jaylene Mosley with the Flintridge Center has placed a significant role in investing in the divested corner of the Pasadena. The strong fabric of NW Pasadena, which was once a mixed income community was rapidly tearing apart. These people of color displaced from the Freeway construction, were offered $75,000 for their homes, but at that time, no homes were under $85,000, causing further displacement.

             Bus loads of Caucasian children rode past Muir High (with all Black students) on their way to La Canada (which was then part of PUSD). Therefore, in the 1970s Pasadena was federally mandated to desegregate. This caused havoc to the whole city and school district. Before long, a city known for many excellent private schools began to see even more spring up. Without a mixed-income student population and involved educated parents, what were once some of the best public schools in the nations, began to decline. (See Conspiracy of the Good, by Michael James)

             The National Fair Housing Act of 1968 while it again allowed for a racially mixed community, by making it possible for people of color, previously restricted from the nicer parts of town, to leave NW Pasadena. But this caused further divestment and an even deeper decline of the area-an unintended consequence of the Fair Housing Act. To this day it is not uncommon to see racial steering and little support for new families to attend public schools among area relators. Additionally, some landlords will still say that their apartments are filled when a person of color comes knocking. Few testers are deployed due to limited funding for the enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. Today there is an additional layer of hate and discrimination against those who are experience homelessness, with landlords and hotels unwilling to received vouchers.

             By the 1970s, zoning laws (that began the 1920’s) were excessively used as a tool to prevent mixed-income communities. Southern California cities were subject to local no-growth and slow-growth movements at the neighborhood level, pushing for down-zoning and large lots only zoned for single family homes. The voice of the poor who could only afford apartments were latterly zoned out of cities. The cry for higher density needed for multifamily housing was not heard. This sentiment remains today. This is especially true of new restrictions against allowing granny flats in Pasadena back yards.  (See Mike Davis, City of Quartz—this tells of new lines being drawn to create new exclusive LA cities formed to keep lower income folks out). When the state was passing laws to allow for back houses, the Pasadena made them almost impossible, with two-car garages, 15,000 sf lots requirements, and other restrictions.  Because of this, between 2001 and 2017 only one was built. The average property size in NW Pasadena is 6,000 sf. One more form of discrimination.

              We complain about the 210 traffic, but most must drive a distance to for housing they can afford. But many people are no longer willing to drive any further to work. Sprawl has hit the wall. People are moving back into what were Pasadena’s lower-income neighborhoods. Large older homes that once housed multiple families have been fast converting to prized homes impeccably restored that now house a couple or one family. Apartments that once housed Pasadena’s gardeners and house keepers are subject to landlords that are eager to flip their asset, bringing in new tenants that can pay higher rents…but often with little improvements. Other apartments are converting to condos at prices that lower income workers cannot afford. While these trends beautify our city, it pushes low- and middle-income families out. Pasadena is losing affordable units much faster than they are gaining them. Some landlords who participate in HUD, Section 8 and other affordable housing programs are not renewing their commitments and covenants, opting to go market rate. For example, as low-income seniors move out of the 114 units at this Senior housing complex at 1070 N. Lake, they not renewing the contract to keep them affordable.

 The fall of 2006 saw four Pasadena Unified School closed due mostly to the housing market. Typically, mostly lower income families populate public schools. In 2005-2006 alone the families of almost 1,000 low- and middle-income students exited the city. They could not afford the increased rents or to purchase a home in the area. Other institutions like Fuller Seminary wisely created a Master Plan that included student housing offered at below market rents, many of which the they built. This would help to prevent students from competing with long-time residents for housing. But strapped for cash, later Fuller broke this plan and sold 197 affordable units, housing approximately 400 people, to a luxury housing developer. This was the second biggest displacement of housing in the history of Pasadena. The largest displacement was when the 210 freeway was built.

These patterns are not uncommon to American Cities, accompanied with a growing number those experiencing homelessness. Many of Pasadena’s 150,000 residents have been unable to afford living indoors. By 2011, 1, 216 were counted as homeless in Pasadena, over half of which were women and children. Over 800 children in the school district were considered homeless. This had never been seen in Pasadena, even after WWII when there was a huge lack of housing across our nation. During that same year, 2011, only 6% of Pasadena’s middle-income population could afford to purchase a Pasadena home. Most homeowners today could not afford to purchase the home they own. Some aging Black and brown homeowners, fell prey to the 2008 mortgage meltdown, with Pasadena based banks like IndyMac, that later became One West under the leadership of Steve Mnuchin, later sold to CIT Group in 2015. Mnuchin joined Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, and today is Secretary of the Treasury. Mnuchin is often dubbed “Foreclosure King” having foreclosed on 16,220 federally insured reverse mortgages from April 2009 to April 2016, twice the national average. Bad loans, intended to fail, often targeted minority populations eager for a piece of the American Dream or homeowners and lowering come home owners with equity. There was so much shame among those targeted in the African American churches, pastors learned about the fate of members of their flock losing their homes too late in the game, when it was not longer possible to get a modified loan or other redemptive measures.

What can be done?

             What can be done? There are many solutions. Rent Control is a very misunderstood policy that landlords and corrupt developers like Black stone have done their best to demonize and to keep unclear, making us think it will destroy our communities. In 2017 we received 10,244 signatures to get rent control on the ballot, shy of the 12,800 needed. But the mayor of Pasadena won with only 8,000 votes. So many are eager to try again in 2019.

Derelict motels primarily on East Colorado Blvd, now home to homeless, prostitution and drug users, can now be converted to permanent supportive housing (PSH), which is what ends homelessness. This would clean up these motels, provide permanent housing for homeless folks with onsite wrap-around case management. Right how no one is vetted, and no rules are required for motels guests. These motels were once in The Green Book—a book outlining the only place in Pasadena where African American could stay and eat.  Between 2011-2016 we lowered the homeless count by 54 percent when we were approving PSH projects. We can do this again by approving motel conversions, building new projects and seek to preserve existing affordable housing from going market rate.  

We need to figure out how to prevent landlords from opting out of affordable housing covenants and place these units into 99-year ground leases. One tool to do this is via a Community Land Trust (CLT) and it is what the City of Irvine is doing. All apartments that are being converted to condos should have a third of the units sold as affordable at prices that those living there can afford to prevent displacement-this is being done in several cities. We need to increase Pasadena’s requirement that 15 percent of all new housing be affordable up to 25 or 30% like Santa Monica has done. The fee allowed to be paid in-lieu of including affordable units must be raised high enough that folks will opt to include the units. This will create a mix of housing units throughout the city and help to undo years of racialized housing policies. All of Pasadena’s 533 inclusionary should be in place into a CLT, just as the City of Irvine is doing. We need to encourage all San Gabriel Valley cities to do the same, placing all their affordable units into a CLT in order to preserve long term affordability.

We must zone for mixed-income multi-family housing in all Pasadena neighborhoods. We must stop all down zoning efforts. As long as there is a need to have homeless counts, and 47% of Pasadenans spend more than 50% of their income on housing, all down-zoning should be disallowed. Down-zoning prevents the density needed to build affordable housing.

If affordable units are destroyed to make way for increased density of units, an equal number of affordable units must be replaced. One-for-one replacement of affordable units must also apply to non-city invested units.

The school district could develop affordable workforce units on their land, and sell the units for income, similar to what Harvard, Irvine, Cal Poly and many universities do. A property owner should be able to subdivide their land if it is 12,000 square feet or larger if they make the parcel affordable. Granny units should be allowed on homes on 5,000 sq. feet so that homes in NW Pasadena, the only area of the city where Blacks were allowed to live, can gain have family close by. Building codes should be relaxed in industrial and commercial areas allowing artist and workers to create housing units within their worksites.

             We must preserve our early mixed-income history and re-create a healthy mixed-income non-racialized housing developments and cultivate a culture of equity, compassion and access to all who need a place to call home. We must shift Pasadena’s policies so that Pasadena becomes a model to our neighboring cities and beyond. This will take an army of advocates. We are miles ahead of many cities with 20 years of success. Will you join us?

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