Groundbreaking  Heritage Square South: The Role of Faith Communities

14 Jul

By Anthony Manousos, Co-Founder and Making Housing and Community Happen


A month ago, on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove, bulldozers demolished Church’s Chicken, which had leased this city-owned property for many years. Over a decade ago, this site was purchased with HUD funding for affordable housing. Last week, on July 5, the official groundbreaking took place at this site for a project that will provide 70 units of permanent supportive housing for unhoused seniors, who are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

This event took place at Heritage Square North (which provides 69 units of affordable senior housing). Among those present were Mayor Victor Gordo, Council member John Kennedy, Assembly member Chris Holden, Congressional Representative Judy Chu, LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Pasadena Housing Director Bill Huang, and Ann Slaby and Ken Lombard of Bridge Housing (developers for this project).

Mayor Gordo explained that this project was a “long time in the making” and congratulated those who made it possible, including Assembly member Chris Holden and Council member John Kennedy (in whose district this project is located).

“This is an auspicious occasion,” said Councilmember Kennedy, “Your presence this morning, represents in part all that is good in Pasadena….We had a vision and the vision wasn’t John Kennedy’s vision. It was Chris [Holden’s] vision. It was Councilmember Gordo’s vision, now, Mayor Gordo. Some of you in this room today had a vision, have a vision, to make life better for the ‘least of these’ in our community.”

Anne Miskey, CEO of Union Station, which will provide the services for those housed in this project, explained what it takes to end chronic homelessness:

“It’s about connection. It’s about human beings connecting with one another. Look around this room. It’s about all of the connections that we’ve made with our elected officials locally at the county at the state and federal level. It is about working with our housing department and our planning department. And I gotta tell you, the staff at the City of Pasadena, we love you folks who are wonderful to work with.”

Housing Director Bill Huang explained why housing homeless seniors is so important. “Every civilized and compassionate society at least takes care of seniors, its children and its disabled persons. And, you know, seniors are having an incredibly difficult time; seniors on fixed incomes are unable to keep up with rising rents. The average social security payment is currently four to five hundred dollars less than the average one bedroom apartment here in Northwest Pasadena. So it’s no surprise that senior homelessness is a growing chronic issue in the entire region, including here in Pasadena.”

Bill Huang graciously thanked his colleagues (Ann Lansing, Jim Wong and Randy Jones), Acting City Manager Cynthia Kurtz, the City Council (which voted unanimously for this project in 2018), and also the “advocates” who “prayed and pushed and even camped out” for this project.

I am grateful that Bill Huang and also to the Mayor acknowledged the role that we advocates play in making affordable housing happen in our city. When our Housing Director spoke of “camping out,” he was alluding to the time when I slept outdoors on the sidewalk next to the site of Heritage Square South with a couple of my fellow advocates to experience what it’s like to sleep outdoors. It was noisy and uncomfortable, but also eye-opening. At 3:00 am I got up, unable to sleep, and saw two elderly African American women in the parking lot, resting on beach lounge chairs, with just a thin blanket to protect them from the cold night air. It broke my heart to see them. It also strengthened my resolve to make sure that every unhoused person in our city has a decent, affordable place to live.

My wife Jill Shook and I founded Making Housing and Community Happen to advocate for those who are unhoused and low-income in our city because we feel that’s what our faith requires us to do. We are told to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute…. defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 32: 8-9). Jesus said his mission was to “proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Our organization’s mission is to “equip congregations, community leaders, and neighbors with practical tools needed to transform their communities to end homelessness, and to stabilize the cost of housing through education, advocacy, organizing, and advisement.”

The faith community has played an important tole advocating for affordable housing at Heritage Square South and other parts of our city. Some churches also want to address the housing crisis by having affordable housing built on their underutilized land, but cannot do so because of zoning restrictions. That’s why we have been advocating for a zoning change in Pasadena that would enable these churches to have affordable housing built on their property. We are grateful that the City Council is willing to consider this policy. We will be urging them to adopt a policy that will work. To learn more go to

Jill and I were honored to be invited to this groundbreaking. It was inspiring to see our community come together—public officials, service providers, affordable housing developers, bankers, community and religious leaders, and advocates. As Anne Miskey reminded us, that’s what ends homelessness: all of us connecting and working together to fulfill our city’s beautiful vision, as expressed in Pasadena’s Housing Element:

“All Pasadena residents have an equal right to live in decent, safe and affordable housing in a suitable living environment for the long-term well-being and stability of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their community.”

It is up to us, with God’s help, to make this vision a reality.

To see a video of Groundbreaking, click here.

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