Big, Bold Affordable Housing Solutions from the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition

8 Jul

housing element logos

Dear Commissioners:

The State Department of Housing and Community Development provides guidance to cities on revising their Housing Elements, noting that California law requires all cities in California to “adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community.”   This broad mandate is too often narrowly interpreted to mean compliance with the minimum standards needed for State certification.

The Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition, made up of a widely representative group of community and civic organizations, urges the Planning Commission to go beyond demonstrating that Pasadena has the theoretical capacity to meet our city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment of 9,429 total units.  The dominant theme of the City’s public outreach meetings has been the demand for effective solutions to the affordable housing crisis facing our rent-burdened tenants and unhoused residents.

To that end, the Housing Element must be a plan that goes beyond potentially allowing 5,974 units of affordable housing (to be added in Pasadena over the next eight years) but instead provides a comprehensive approach to achieving that goal.

Tonight thousands of Pasadenans will go sleep worrying about their housing security – and hundreds more will not have a place to sleep at all. It is cold comfort to them to offer a plan that in addresses their needs in concept, but not in reality.   

The Coalition’s member organizations support a comprehensive set of recommendations based on three key overarching principles to ensure the plan not only meets the minimum standards of State law but most importantly meets the needs of Pasadena’s families, seniors, workers, disabled and low-income renters.  These principles are:

  • Make affordable housing easier and less expensive to build in Pasadena by removing the myriad local barriers that inflate the costs and discourage development of affordable housing.
  • Provide augmented local funding to help bridge the gap between the cost of providing affordable housing and the current resources available. Pasadena cannot fill the gap on its own, but can ensure that Federal, State, regional, private and non-profit resources can be leveraged to maximize the supply of local affordable housing.
  • Provide housing security to Pasadena’s rent-burdened tenants, recognizing the dire crisis facing them now as they cope with rising rents, inadequate legal protections against evictions and harassment and often substandard living conditions that go unreported for fear of retaliation.

Making affordable housing easier and less expensive to build in Pasadena starts with common sense policies that include enabling construction of deed-restricted affordable housing by right on congregational land and in commercial zones; removing parking minimums citywide; incentivizing the building of accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and streamlining the cumbersome processes that impede the development of affordable housing as well as permanent supportive housing for unhoused residents.

Consideration of an affordable housing overlay on congregational land has been needlessly delayed and if not pursued immediately should be among the first priorities for implementation in the Housing Element. Given the changing face of retail, development “by right” of adaptive reuse with affordable housing should also be a critical priority.

ADUs can provide “elegant density” that not only increase the housing supply overall, but help low-income owners and young families afford their mortgages. Finally, Pasadena should recognize that tortuous entitlement processes don’t produce equitable outcomes. Pasadena should set high standards — and grant permits to those who comply.

Providing augmented local funding to help bridge the gap between the cost of providing affordable housing and the current resources available is the only way to adequately leverage the resources from Federal, State, regional, private and non-profit resources. Using redevelopment set aside for affordable housing, Pasadena compiled an exemplary record of supporting local affordable housing.

Since its abolition in 2011, the only local stream of funding for affordable housing has come from housing developers who’ve chosen not to provide onsite units to meet their inclusionary responsibilities. This is grossly inadequate to the need.  Voters in other jurisdictions including Los Angeles, Culver City and Santa Monica have approved local taxes or bonds.

As Pasadena considers meeting its overall fiscal needs, affordable housing should be a paramount goal to maintain our character as an inclusive and diverse community dedicated to safe and decent housing for all our residents.

Enhancing housing security for Pasadena’s rent-burdened tenants is necessary because renters’ lives can’t wait for the city to meet the pent-up demand for additional affordable housing options. Just as developers often require grants and below market financing to make their projects viable, low and very low income tenants often require subsidies and protections against undue escalations in housing costs to make their rents affordable. No one knows whether the State’s program for forestalling mass evictions after the expiration of the present eviction moratorium will be adequate.

Even if mass displacement does not immediately occur, over the past two decades thousands of long-term residents, many of them multi-generational Pasadenans, have been involuntarily displaced out of the city. This tragedy has fallen most heavily on people of color, particularly the historic Black community in Pasadena, which the 2010 Census showed had been reduced by 24% in just ten years. Given the drastic escalation in rents and home values during the last decade, a similar or greater decline is to be expected upon the release of the 2020 Census figures.

To stem the tide of displacement, the city must fashion remedies to meet not only its RHNA goals – as important as they are – but the affordable housing concerns of its existing residents-over 60% of whom are renters.

Our coalition urges the City to recognize the dire crisis of its existing residents with means adequate to the challenge, adopting a comprehensive set of tenant protections including rent control, just cause eviction rights, adequate legal representation for low-income tenants and a citywide rent registry.

If any of these policies are not included in the Housing Element, the City must propose adequate alternatives for providing housing security to ensure Pasadenans are not forced out of their homes, their neighborhoods, their children’s schools and in some cases out onto the streets.

These three principles and the policies we’ve enumerated in this letter represent a framework for development of a comprehensive Housing Element. Our Coalition has extensively discussed a more detailed set of policies and programs which are all vital to a balanced and realistic plan for housing affordability in Pasadena. We ask the Commission members and City staff to give thoughtful consideration to each and every one of our recommendations for inclusion in the Housing Element.

We appreciate this opportunity to provide the views of hundreds of informed and active local community members who insist their City “adequately plan to meet the needs of everyone in the community.”

Respectfully submitted,

The Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition

POP!, Abundant Housing, MHCH, Foothill Democrats, NAACP, League of Women Voters, All Saints Church, Pasadena Tenants Union

One Response to “Big, Bold Affordable Housing Solutions from the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition”

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  1. Speak out about affordable action this month! | Making Housing and Community Happen - July 9, 2021

    […] can look through this menu of affordable housing policies supported by the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition and choose one that appeals to […]

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