Speak out about the Housing Element at the July 18 City Council meeting….

14 Mar

The Pasadena City Council will be voting on approving the draft Housing Element on July 18. It is item #7. See https://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/2022%20Agendas/Jul_18_22/Agenda.asp.

This is an opportunity to speak out in favor of policies that you feel would help our city reach the goal of 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next 8 years. The Housing Element that is being proposed does not contain any significant policy or zoning changes that would realistically enable Pasadena to reach that goal. Here are some policies, recommended by the Pasadena Affordable Housing Coalition, that could make a difference. Remind the Council that HCD doesn’t want the Housing Element merely to “study” or “ponder” changes, but to commit to action with specific timeframes.

Zoning Solutions

Why is zoning important? Zoning determines what can be built, where, and at what height, density, and type. Every inch of our city is zoned and planned, but this was not always so. Zoning laws began in the 1920s and were often used to create single-family neighborhoods with larger lots and separate them from higher density multi-family housing (where lower-income people lived and were often people of color). This separation served wealthier, mostly white residents. Later racial covenants were attached to homes and redlining by banks further segregated people of color into certain parts of the city. Zoning also had good intentions, such as restricting industrial uses to one part of the city away from homes, but sadly people of color often had no choice but to live next to these toxic industrial zones. Today’s zoning maps should be inclusive of all income levels with racial barriers eliminated. The zoning policies below seek to do just that.

Rezoning Congregational Land for Affordable Housing.  Many churches have underutilized land and want to use it to bless the community with affordable housing but are unable to do so they aren’t zoned properly.  We need to rezone religious property citywide so congregations can build affordable housing at sufficient density to make it financially feasible. We need to have clear, predetermined development standards regarding height, density, and scale so developers can undertake a project with confidence that it won’t be rejected for political reasons. We need a zoning amendment that is crafted to be unique to each area of the city and sensitive to site/neighborhood context. See this factsheet for more information on rezoning congregational land.

Housing Overlay Zone.: We need to rethink land use in our city to make it easier and less expensive to build affordable housing. A housing overlay zone provides a package of incentives to developers who include in their projects homes that people can afford. They are called “overlay” zones because they layer on top of established base zoning regulations, leaving in place opportunities for property owners to develop within these existing rules. Let’s make sure that these affordable housing zones are scattered throughout the city.

Incentivize affordable ACCESSORY DWELLING UNITS (ADUs, popularly known as “granny flats”) and Junior ADUs. Allow more flexibility on ADU size (build a second story above parking on 1st floor): Pasadena has come a long way since the days it made ADUs virtually impossible to build with onerous restrictions. Now that Pasadena recognizes the value of ADUs and sees how they can help families and low-income residents and homeowners, we need to make it possible to build ADUs over garages. It also makes sense to allow homeowners to build two-story ADUs in neighborhoods where two-story homes are permitted. Allowing two-story ADUs will create more needed living space without detracting from the character of neighborhoods and allow for parking.

Remove Parking Minimums Citywide: A single underground parking space can cost up to $50,000. Parking minimums hurt housing affordability, take up space that could be used for more housing units, encourage driving, and disincentivize the use of transit. If our goal is to make our city green, let’s encourage Pasadenans to be less car reliant.  Additionally, let’s incentivize building affordable housing above parking lots.

Encourage “Missing Middle” housing types: (row houses/brownstones, stacked triplexes, etc). Single-family detached homes are pleasant and desirable, but so are other less expensive types of housing. SB 9 allows homeowners to split their lots and build duplexes, thereby increasing the number of single-family homes in single-family neighborhoods. Since there is concern that increased density caused by SB 9 could detract from the appearance of a neighborhood, hold a design competition to solicit architectural templates that are beautiful and can win public approval, and allow small developers to use those templates to build projects with minimal review by the planning department. Let’s embrace SB 9 as we did ADUs and make this policy meet our city’s need for smaller and less expensive single family housing.

Introduce local density bonus program near transit: City of Los Angeles Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) program encourages developers to build more housing units – including affordable units – near major public transportation stops. Additional incentives include the reduction of parking requirements. This makes environmental sense and should be encouraged in Pasadena.

Allow housing in commercially zoned areas: Vacant or underutilized commercially zoned areas are opportunities to build housing in areas where vacant land is hard to come across. Mixed use—having apartments over businesses—works well in Old Pasadena. Why not in other parts of our city?

Streamline the approval of deed-restricted, affordable housing, and permanent supportive housing within 120 days of application. Currently it can take many months or even years to go through the approval process, thereby increasing the cost of housing. Affordable housing should be placed at the head of the line and fast-tracked to make it less expensive.

Form-Based Code (FBC): Traditional zoning determines the height, density and use of buildings in each zone. FBCs give a clear height and bulk of the building but the use is flexible within that footprint and space. FBCs remove barriers and incentivize Missing Middle Housing in appropriate locations in a community. FBCs represent a paradigm shift in the way that we regulate the built environment, using physical form rather than a separation of uses as the organizing principal, to create predictable, built results and a high-quality public realm.  

Funding Solutions

Pasadena’s general funds are typically not used for affordable housing. The main local funding source consists of inclusionary fees paid by developers in lieu of building affordable units on site. These funds are running out. We need a reliable and dedicated source of fundings that can be leveraged by affordable housing developers to obtain state and federal funding for affordable housing. Once the city provides a small amount a ”seed money,” developers can apply to the many funding sources needed to make affordable housing financially feasible.  These are some options worth considering.

Vacancy Tax: A vacancy tax called the Oakland Vacant Property Tax (VPT) was passed by the City of Oakland in 2t018. The VPT Act establishes an annual tax of $3,000 to $6,000 on vacant property. The City of Oakland defined its own definition of “vacancy” which each city will do for themselves. The City of Oakland VPT covers both residential and nonresidential property types. We need to do research to determine if such a tax would be benefificial in Pasadena. (Having a Rent Registry would help provide the needed data.)

Unbundle Parking Cost from Rent Cost: Underground parking can cost up to $50,000 per parking space. Unbundling parking can make housing more affordable because renters can choose to simply rent a housing unit, without paying for the cost of a parking space. Additionally, unbundling the cost of parking from the cost of rent incentivizes people to cut down on their car use so they can avoid paying the parking space fee.

Transfer Tax: “Real estate transfer taxes are assessed on the sale value of a property when it changes ownership…. For example, LA County collects a minimal transfer tax of 0.11% or $1.10 per $1,000 of the sale price. The revenue potential for transfer taxes can be large. The revenues could be spent on a variety of important local efforts including low-income housing construction and rehabilitation, supportive housing and shelters, as well as services for unhoused residents, acquisition of land and at-risk rental properties, rental housing assistance including Housing Choice vouchers, and legal representation for tenants facing eviction or slum condition.” A ballot measure in the City of LA proposes to raise the transfer tax rate on properties greater than $5 million to fund homeless and affordable housing. Research needs to be done to determine if an increased transfer tax would be beneficial in Pasadena and if we can the capacity to conduct a campaign. (It would require a petition to get it on the ballot.)

Affordable Housing Bond: An affordable housing bond issues a certain amount of bonds to fund housing projects and assistance for low-income and middle-income households and for people experiencing homelessness. There has been some talk of using school bond money to fund housing for teachers and staff on underutilized PUSD land. MHCH feels this option is well worth pursuing since it would enable teachers to live closer to where they work and feel more connected to the community where their students live.

Create an Affordable Housing Fund, funded by an Impact Fee: An impact fee is a development fee whose purpose is to offset the impact of new development on the need for affordable housing. The fees are collected and dedicated towards affordable housing. Pasadena currently has an impact fee for parks. Why not for affordable housing?

Preservation Solutions

Long-Term Stewardship of Housing – Community Land Trusts (CLT): A Community Land Trust is a tool for keeping land off the speculative market and preserving affordable housing. The trust owns the land but allows homeowners to own their homes with a limited equity agreement. That is, homeowners purchase homes below market rate and agree to sell them below market rate. This keeps homes permanently affordable. There are hundreds of successful CLTs across the nation. MHCH is in the process of starting the first CLT in the San Gabriel Valley.

Long-Term Preservation of Housing Subsidies – Community Land Trusts: Housing subsidies can keep affordable housing affordable. However, often these subsidies have a date of expiration, meaning at the time of the subsidies expiration the housing can become market rate housing. Long-term preservation of housing subsidies is needed to ensure that affordable housing, such as community land trusts, remain affordable long term

City Purchases and Covenants (Preserves) Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing: This is a way to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing that low-income households already occupy. This is a way for cities to preserve naturally occurring affordable housing and prevent the displacement of low-income households. If the city does not want to own the housing, they can hand it over to a local community land trust for operation and ownership.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

Racism has played in a significant role in how Pasadena has planned our city with Black and other people of color being allowed to live in only certain parts of the city, with limited access to amenities, jobs, credit and more. To help address this, the state has created Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH), a state policy that seeks to combat housing discrimination, eliminate racial bias, undo historic patterns of segregation, and lift barriers that restrict access in order to foster inclusive communities and achieve racial equity, fair housing choice, and opportunity for all Californians. Cities are required to have a plan for AFFH. We must take this mandate seriously and rezone our city to allow for affordable housing and homeownership to be built by right, eliminating barriers to make this happen throughout the city.

Displacement and gentrification. 25% of the African American community have left Pasadena in the last decade largely because of soaring housing costs, and the Latino community is beginning to decline for the first time for the same reason. The city needs a realistic plan to create 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next 8 years, as required by the state’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), to meet the needs of low-income residents, many of whom are people of color.

Housing as a Human Right

“All Pasadena residents have an equal right to live in decent, safe and affordable housing.” This is our city’s housing vision, but too often elected officials fail to make it a priority. In 2020, 527 Pasadena residents are homeless, with over 300 living on the street, 700 PUSD students are homeless, and 19% of PCC students are homeless. These alarming numbers call for urgent action. Here are some policies that address this crisis.

Strategic Use of City-Owned Land: Pasadena has used city-owned property for affordable housing at the Civic Center and at Heritage Square, but it took significant public pressure to convince the City Council to do so. We need a policy that requires city-owned land be exclusively for the creation of affordable and/or supportive housing projects through below-market or no-cost sale or lease to non-profit developers of community land trusts.

Transitional Housing, Temporary Housing, and Shelters for Unhoused Folks: All options should be pursued to shelter unhoused folks in Pasadena, not just permanent supportive housing. State law requires that areas of the city be designated where shelters and transitional housing can be built by right. The city needs to utilize this law to bypass NIMBYs and create much needed transitional housing.

Inclusionary Housing Ordinance: Pasadena’s inclusionary housing ordinance requires developers to reserve 20% of housing units for very low, low, and moderate-income households in new residential developments. This ordinance includes an in-lieu fee that allows developers to bypass inclusionary requirements by paying a fee. Most developers choose to include the affordable units rather than pay a fee. These fees are used to fund affordable housing for low-income residents and permanent supportive housing for those who are homeless. Until alternative funding sources are found, these in lieu fees should be allowed. Some of the regulations for IZ need to be strengthened, however. For example, when a developer chooses to provide the affordable units off site, the funds should go through the City’s Housing Department so these funds can be leveraged.

Rent Control: We urgently need rent control because Pasadena currently has the highest median rent in the Los Angeles area. Rents in Pasadena rose 6% last year and 43% from 2012-2019, while incomes rose only 36%. Many low-income residents who work in our city cannot afford to live here and must live far away and make long, expensive commutes, which is bad for the environment as well as their personal life. 25% of the African American community left Pasadena in the last decade, largely because of soaring housing costs. 62% of Pasadena residents are renters, 49% of renters are rent-burdened, and 26% are severely rent-burdened (paying more than 50% of their income on rent). Few can afford to have their rent increase by 9% a year, as is currently permitted under state law. We need rent control to have a stable and socioeconomically diverse community.

If you are a renter, and have faced eviction, harassment or rents that are too high, share your story along with some of these statistics. Your voice needs to be heard!

Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance We need a Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance because some landlords are taking advantage of their tenants, particularly those who are low-income and undocumented. Examples of landlord harassment include failure to perform requested repairs, entering the unit without proper notice, refusing to acknowledge or accept lawful payments from tenants, intentionally disturbing a tenant’s peace and quiet, violating a tenant’s right to privacy, inquiring about a tenant’s immigration status, or other dishonest or intimidating behavior. These activities should not only not be allowed, but tenants should also be provided with free legal counsel so they can have a chance to win landlord harassment cases when they come to trial. This would deter landlords from abusing their tenants.

Tenant’s Right to Counsel Funding. Low-income tenants are at a disadvantage when landlords threaten them with eviction, refuse to repay their deposit, or harass them. That’s why there needs to be Tenant’s Right to Counsel Funding: Pasadena should seek funding to implement a right to counsel for tenants in eviction proceeding as well as  additional rental assistance for tenants. The ACLU strongly supports giving tenants the right to counsel.

Just Cause Eviction Ordinance. We need a Just Cause Eviction Ordinance because landlords currently can evict tenants for virtually any reason and would be more likely to do so if there is rent control. Just cause eviction policies promote residential stability by limiting the grounds upon which a landlord may evict a tenant. Allowable grounds for eviction include nonpayment of rent, intentional damage to the unit, and other material noncompliance with the terms of the lease before they may evict tenants. Tenants should have a right to stay in their apartment if they don’t cause problems. It’s that simple.  

A rental registry is a good idea because it requires landlords to report to the city about rental units and rent amounts. Why is this important? Rent registries help track building code standards, ensure quality housing for tenants, and enforce rent control laws. Policy makers use the data to determine trends and rental housing supply needs. This policy has worked well in other cities. Just as restaurants need to be inspected to ensure that they meet health and safety requirements, so should apartments. Tenants deserve to have a healthy and safe apartment. That’s what a rent registry can help ensure.

TOPA (Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Agreement. When apartments come up for sale, tenants should have an opportunity to purchase the apartment building.  This is called TOPA (Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Agreement) The first TOPA bill was enacted in Washington, D.C., in 1980 to give tenants at risk of eviction a pathway to ownership and control over their homes. A 2013 report from the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that TOPA helped preserve nearly 1,400 units of affordable housing in the District between 2003 and 2013, at just a fraction of a cost of building new affordable units. Advocates of current TOPA proposals are calling for expanded funding streams to make the first right of purchase attainable for low-income tenants.

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