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JOB OPENING: Community-based organizer for the North Fair Oaks Empowerment Initiative

15 Oct

Background: The North Fair Oaks Empowerment Initiative was founded by African American pastors, elders and leaders committed to restoring a once thriving African American business district. The target area is a divested and neglected corridor of Pasadena, from Washington Ave. to Woodbury Rd on N. Fair Oaks Ave. The goal is to beautify and not gentrify, to provide opportunity to address displacement with opportunity for those displaced to return with the use of underutilized church land for affordable housing. Beauty is being addressed with a potential street redesign (Complete Streets) in partnership with the city of Pasadena to slow traffic and create safely. Learn more here: https://www.makinghousinghappen.org/north-fair-oaks-empowerment-initiat
Job Summary:
The initial role of a community-based organizer will be to finalize a survey that was sent to the residents on N. Fair Oaks, Raymond and N. El Sereno and the side streets between Woodbury and Washington asking for their input on the Complete Streets concept (including more cross walks, trees, signage, etc.) for this N. Fair Oaks corridor. The goal is to obtain enough support so that the City will invest in accomplishing it. This redistribution and allocation of resources addresses longtime racial and economic injustice.
Duties and Responsibilities:
Together with and under the supervision, training, and direction of N. Fair Oaks Empowerment Team and MHCH staff (Team) the joy will involve:
1. Being in the community to obtain letters of support from businesses, churches and nonprofits and possibly ask for signatures for the rent control campaign.
2. See to develop a team of from those who have returned surveys.
3. Facilitate online meetings in coordination with two city departments.
4. Gather the results of the survey and public meetings and present them to the city with the Team.
To apply:
1. Obtain the full job description, from Jill@makinghousinghappen.org
2. If you feel you are qualified and feel led to apply, send a cover letter detailing your interest, your resume and contact information for three references.
Hours and pay: 10-15 hours a week, @ $20 an hour for six months with the potential of longer term employment and more hours.
Start date: ASAP
Organization: http://www.makinghousinghappen.org

Seeking administrative assistant for MHCH

12 Oct

MAKING HOUSING AND COMMUNITY HAPPEN (MHCH)

Seeks Part-time Assistant

We are seeking an efficient, detail-oriented, tech-savvy and self-directed part-time administrative assistant to work closely with Jill Shook, the co-founder of nonprofit Making Housing and Community Happen (MHCH), based in Pasadena, CA.  This assistant is responsible for performing administrative and organizational functions in support of our co-founder and MHCH, which has a track record of successful housing justice efforts for 25 years. This is an exciting opportunity to grow and learn what it takes to effectively address the housing crisis with a racial justice lens.

  • 15 hours per week (with 10 hours in our home-based office in Pasadena. Must be fully vaccinated.
  • $20 per hour

Making Housing and Community Happen is a faith-rooted non-profit organization that equips 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.

Essential responsibilities and skills include the following. Other duties may be assigned. 

  • Communications: assisting with preparation of routine correspondence including weekly updates. Must be available Thursday evenings 7:30pm to plan weekly updates.
  • Ability to work with (quickly learn) Wix, Google Workspace apps, and Microsoft Office (Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel).
  • Filing and organization: maintain files, contacts, and news media in both hardcopy locations and electronic drives.
  • Mail management: help manage, streamline, incoming mail.
  • Meeting coordination: assist with the logistics of in-person meetings and Zoom meetings. Create minutes for meetings and maintain records of meeting agendas and minutes.
  • Core Meetings: Second Tuesday of every month from 6 PM to 8 PM
  • Housing Justice Forum: Fourth Tuesday of every month from 7 PM to 8:30 PM
  • Bookkeeping support: manage donor database, send thank you letters and receipts, manage receipts for reimbursements, and assist with donor communications.
  • Volunteer and donor management: track and manage volunteer database
  • Trouble shoot technology issues, develop and implement more efficient and effective systems for managing information, projects and communications
  • Assist with office maintenance which may include tidying up files and mail or helping to purchase office supplies

To apply: please submit your cover letter (detailing your interest in the position), resume, and include the contact information for three references to Jill@makinghousinghappen.org. 

Organization website: https://www.makinghousinghappen.org/

Start Date: ASAP

MHCH Housing Justice Forum October 2021

12 Oct

hOUSING JUSTICE FORUM OCT 2021

JOIN US FOR OUR MONTHLY MHCH HOUSING JUSTICE FORUM ON NEW STATE BILLS THAT WILL IMPACT AFFORDABLE HOUSING. Governor Gavin Newsome just signed 31 bills relating to homelessness and affordable housing that will have a major impact on our state’s housing crisis. The California Comeback Plan invests an unprecedented $22 billion in housing and homelessness and also enacts significant zone changes, such as SB 9, which will permit duplexes and fourplexes on single family lots. Another bill provides $100 million to low-income homeowners to help them build ADUs.  Our forum will look at how these and other bills will address the urgent need for affordable housing in local communities like Pasadena.

Presenters include Anthony Dedousis, Director of Policy and Research for Abundant Housing LA, working to help solve Southern California’s housing crisis; and Andrew Slocum, founder and principal of Green Development Co., a full-service development and consulting firm involved in all phases of the development process within single-family, multi-family, and affordable housing.

When: Oct 26, 2021 7:00 PM Pacific Time

Register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtd-ytqT0oGtLVbFOMgz8kcVtQ4Z20MAEx

Presenters include Anthony Dedousis, Director of Policy and Research for Abundant Housing LA, working to help solve Southern California’s housing crisis; and Andrew Slocum, founder and principal of Green Development Co., a full-service development and consulting firm involved in all phases of the development process within single-family, multi-family, and affordable housing.

Eviction Moratorium: How to Help Tenants…

16 Aug

 

Housing Justice Forum August Eviction Moratorium Wix

Click here to download flyer: Housing Justice Forum August Eviction Moratorium Final

To register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAvcOuqrDIpHt1RMQNgu47SiW6r6XOtTbot

Letter from Sonja Berndt on Best Use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Funds

13 Aug

August 13, 2021

Re:  City Council Meeting 8/16/2021 – Agenda Item #18:  Staff Recommendations for American Rescue Plan Act Appropriations

Dear Mayor Gordo and Members of the Pasadena City Council:

  1. Introduction

Our City has received a lifeline from the federal government in extraordinary funds pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) — $26 million this year and $26 million next year.  Last June 14th, the Council requested staff to come back with a comprehensive scheme for expending these funds.  Mayor Gordo requested a “workshop-type” meeting so that the Council and the public could have input on proposed uses of these funds.

The staff report setting forth staff’s recommendations for expending the remaining $25 million was made publicly available late yesterday, 4 days before the Council would discuss these imprudent and inequitable recommendations.  Respectfully, this does not give most community members sufficient time to review and analyze the report before Monday’s meeting.  Moreover, allowing 2-3 minutes for community members to provide input is not a fair opportunity to be heard on how these funds should be spent to lift up the marginalized in our community and those who have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID pandemic.    

At the June 14th meeting, many community members submitted correspondence and public comments recommending that the Council use the ARPA funds in an impactful way to bring about positive change such as funding effective, evidence-based, affordable, Public Health programs like Advance Peace and CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets).  The ARPA highly encourages the use of funds in this manner, which promotes racial and socioeconomic equity.

Please reject the staff recommendations discussed below and direct staff to conduct a community forum so that the public and experts can weigh in on how the City can best use these funds to help our residents and to promote community equity.

  1. Background – Eligible Uses of ARPA Funds

The Interim Final Rule (“IFR”) is the Treasury Department’s guidance for allocating the ARPA funding provided to state and local governments.  It discusses numerous eligible uses for the ARPA funds, many of which would provide critical programs that our most vulnerable and marginalized residents need to move forward from the pandemic.  The ARPA funds must be spent within the four eligible uses identified in the statute—”(1) to respond to the public health emergency and its negative economic impacts, (2) to provide premium pay to essential workers, (3) to provide government services to the extent of eligible governments’ revenue losses, and (4) to make necessary water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure investments.”  (IFR, pp. 78-79.)  Significantly, at the outset, the IFR states that “[t]he ARPA provides a substantial infusion of resources to meet pandemic response needs and rebuild a stronger, more equitable economy as the country recovers.”  (IFR, p. 8, emphasis added.)

ARPA funds may be used to respond to the public health emergency or its negative economic impacts, including for one or more of the following purposes:

  1. COVID-19 Response and Prevention

Funds may be used for “COVID-19 related expenses in congregate living facilities, including skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, incarceration settings, homeless shelters, residential foster care facilities . . . and other group living facilities.”  (IFR, p. 138, see also p. 18.)  The funds may also be used for COVID-19 related mental health treatment and other behavioral services. (IFR, p. 140.)

  1. Assistance to Households

Assistance to households facing negative economic impacts due to COVID-19 is also an eligible use. This includes food assistance; rent or mortgage assistance; legal aid to prevent eviction or homelessness; cash assistance; and job training.  (IFR, p. 33.)

  1. Uses to Address Disproportionately Impacted Communities

The IFR goes into great detail about the disproportionate public health and economic impacts of the pandemic on communities disadvantaged before it began.  “Low-income communities, people of color, and Tribal communities have faced higher rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, as well as higher rates of unemployment and lack of basic necessities like food and housing.”  (IFR, p. 5.)  To address these impacts and the role of pre-existing social vulnerabilities in driving these disparate outcomes, the IFR “identifies a broader range of services and programs that will be presumed to be responding to the public health emergency when provided in a Qualified Census Tract (QCT) [or] to families living in QCTs. . . .” [1] (IFR, pp. 21-22.)  These include:

(i) Programs or services that facilitate access to health and social services such as assistance applying for public benefits; housing services to support healthy living environments conducive to mental and physical wellness; and “evidence-based community violence intervention programs to prevent violence and mitigate the increase in violence during the pandemic.”  (IFR, pp. 22-23, 141-142.)

(ii) Programs or services that address housing insecurity, lack of affordable housing, or homelessness where the economic impacts of COVID-19 have likely been most acute, such as supportive housing or other programs or services to improve access to stable, affordable housing among individuals who are homeless; development of affordable housing to increase supply of affordable and high-quality living units; and housing vouchers, residential counseling or housing navigation assistance.  (IFR, pp. 39, 142.)

(iii) Programs or services that address or mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on education, such as new or expanded early learning services; assistance to high-poverty school districts to advance equitable funding across districts and geographies; and educational and evidence-based services to address the academic, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.  (IFR, p. 142.)

(iv) Programs or services that address or mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on childhood health or welfare, such as new or expanded childcare; programs to provide home visits by health professionals and social service professionals to individuals with young children to provide education and assistance for economic support, health needs, or child development; and services for child welfare-involved families and foster youth to provide support and education on child development, positive parenting, coping skills, or recovery for mental health and substance use.  (IFR, pp. 142-143.)

III.     Staff’s Imprudent and Inequitable Recommendations for Expending the                  Remaining $25 million in ARPA Funds Received this Year

  1. $9.8 Million to the General Fund

Staff recommends that the General Fund receive a huge portion of ARPA funds to “backfill revenue losses, maintain essential services, and eliminate the projected operating deficit for FY22.”  (Staff Report, p. 3.)  Since our Housing Department receives miniscule General Fund appropriations ($1.475 million for FY 2022) and our Public Health Department receives none, our vulnerable and marginalized communities will see little benefit from this recommended appropriation.

Sections 602(c)(1)(C) and 603(c)(1)(C) of the ARPA does allow local government to use ARPA funds to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to COVID-19 and to avoid cuts in government services.  (IFR, pp. 51-53.)  “These budget shortfalls are particularly problematic in the current environment, as State, local, and Tribal governments work to mitigate and contain the COVID-19 pandemic and help citizens weather the economic downturn.”  (IFR, p. 52, emphasis added.)  Such “government services” include critical infrastructure, health services, education services and public safety programs.  There is a detailed 10-page explanation of this eligible use in the IFR, but there is no discussion included in the staff report.  Staff should be directed to explain how this huge reimbursement is “helping citizens weather the economic downturn.”

Moreover, while staff says this General Fund appropriation is to “maintain essential services” and staff predicts a FY22 operating loss of $9.77 million, staff clearly needs to explain the references in Attachment A that the FY22 forecast includes over $21 million in “Debt Service,” $10 million of which is a “contribution to RBOC to cover Debt Service and Amerifest.”  This is because “expenses associated with obligations under instruments evidencing financial indebtedness for borrowed money would not be considered the provision of government services, as these financing expenses do not directly provide services or aid to citizens.  Specifically, government services would not include interest or principal on any outstanding debt instrument. . . .”  (IFR, p. 60, emphasis added.)  Unless staff can adequately explain how this recommendation qualifies as an eligible use under the IFR, and how it can include $21 million in “debt service” to justify recommending this appropriation as an eligible use, it does not appear to be an eligible use.

  1. $8.539 Million to the Capital Improvement Program Budget

Staff recommends another huge appropriation of the ARPA funds for sidewalk improvements, bridge enhancements, traffic signals, etc.  Are these enhancements and improvements necessary at a time when we are still suffering the economic effects of the pandemic?  We are left to speculate because there is no discussion in the staff report about the urgency of any of these improvements.

Further, are these improvements more important than sheltering our nearly 300 unsheltered persons or providing assistance to housing-insecure persons?  Instead, the City should create more interim housing and supportive housing and services for our unhoused, more affordable housing for our low-income residents, and more community programs that address health and mental health issues and violence prevention, particularly in our underserved communities.

  1. $2.4 million to Remodel Fire Station #38 and for Seismic Upgrade of       Fire Station 37

With regard to staff’s recommendation to appropriate $400,000 of the ARPA funds for seismic work for Fire Station 37, this may be reasonable provided staff demonstrates that this work is urgent and cannot be included in the $1.5 million already budgeted for this fire station’s improvements.

As for the $2 million appropriation to remodel Fire Station 38, staff asserts the improvements (remodeling the kitchen and dining and living areas, etc.) are “necessary to maintain operational standards of the facility,” but provides no showing to support that assertion.  This Council has already approved $1 million for FY22 to remodel the Police Department building to provide “an open floor plan,” furniture, etc.  This continuing effort to prioritize buildings over people even during a pandemic needs to stop.  We have nearly 300 unsheltered persons experiencing homelessness and thousands who are housing insecure who are more deserving of assistance.

  1. $550,000 to Support the Second Pasadena Outreach Response Team           (“PORT”) in FY23 and FY24

Recently, the Council approved using some of the Police Department’s excess operating budget funds to create a second PORT.  Staff now recommends using $550,000 of the ARPA funds to support the second PORT for FY 23 and FY24.  Staff needs to explain to Council and the public: “What is the rush?”  According to a PORT PowerPoint produced in response to my Public Records Act request to the Public Health Department, in addition to case management, “PORT 2” will respond to calls for service in place of an armed police officer.  For many months, the community has asked the City to explore a mobile crisis intervention unit like CAHOOTS that would be available 24-7 to handle non-life-threatening calls for service for persons experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis.  PORT clearly is not that, as its work hours are Monday through Thursday and every other Friday 8-5 pm.

While PORT does good outreach work with persons experiencing homelessness in our City, there has never been a discussion of the best and most cost-efficient way to respond to situations involving persons suffering from a mental illness or a substance use disorder crisis.[2]  I do not oppose funding a second PORT unit, but not at the expense of creating a CAHOOTS-model, 24-7 crisis response in our City.  Funding must be included for a 24-7 response for all non-life-threatening situations involving persons suffering from a mental illness and/or substance use disorder crisis.  Because (1) there has been no discussion of a CAHOOTS-model program, (2) there is no explanation of any urgency for this appropriation for FY23 and FY24, and (3) there are much greater needs for immediate action to fund programs for our unhoused, housing insecure and persons disproportionately affected by policing this recommendation should be rejected.

  1. $630,000 to the Housing Department’s FY22 Operating Budget

The $400,000 appropriation staff recommends for bridge housing for PCC students is far too small to address the need of our nearly 300 unsheltered residents.  Moreover, per the 2020 Homeless Count, 87% of our homeless population was age 25 and over, older than most PCC students.  While I support the $400,000 if needed to provide services to PCC students, that has to be a starting point.  The City needs to become serious about meeting the urgent unmet needs of our unhoused residents.

As for the recommendation of $150,000 “to fund additional eviction prevention legal services,” I do not oppose that recommendation, but request the Council to inquire of staff how it arrived at that figure and if that will be sufficient to provide legal services for all who will need them.

The $80,000 recommended appropriation for the addition of a second HOPE Team case manager from Union Station is problematic.  Many community members have already vociferously argued for a crisis intervention response that does not include a uniformed officer for non-life-threatening situations.  This would avoid needless altercations involving persons suffering from mental illness and a waste of taxpayer funds resulting from arresting these persons for assaulting a police officer who should not have been deployed in the first place.  Community members were promised that CAHOOTS would be agendized at the Public Safety Committee and are still waiting.[3]  This recommendation should be rejected until CAHOOTS is agendized, discussed, and the public and experts have a chance to weigh in on what is the most beneficial and cost-effective crisis intervention model for our persons suffering from mental illness and/or a substance use disorder.

  1. $200,000 to Support Continued Efforts to Reduce Community Violence

Staff recommends a $200,000 appropriation to the General Fund, City Manager’s Office budget, to support continued efforts to prevent/reduce community violence.  Ricky Pickens and his associates gave a PowerPoint presentation to the Public Safety Committee on July 21st.  The program appears to be a good investment in the community.  But the $200,000 appropriation seems to be far short of what is needed to sustain this program.  Staff should be directed to provide a detailed explanation of the funds needed to make a significant community impact for a sustained period of time.

  1. Conclusion

For all of the stated reasons, the staff’s recommendations discussed herein should be rejected.  Staff should be directed to conduct a community forum so that experts and the public can provide input on how the City can best use these funds to assist our residents and to promote community equity.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Sonja K. Berndt, Esq. (retired)

[1] Recipients may also provide these services to other populations/geographic areas disproportionately impacted by the pandemic if they can show that the pandemic resulted in disproportionate public health or economic outcomes to the specific populations/geographic areas to be served.  (IFR, p. 22.)

[2] In the PORT PowerPoint, costs for PORT #1 are listed as over $314,000 (for an undefined period), so it is not clear that the $275,000 per year appropriation staff requests would be sufficient to cover PORT 2’s expenses.

[3] On June 7, 2021, the Council promised the community that a CAHOOTS-model crisis intervention response for our City would be agendized in the Public Safety Committee.  Mayor Gordo has not done that.  Even PPD Commander Clawson has said that CAHOOTS for our City should be discussed.

Join our summer campaign for rezoning religious land for affordable housing

5 Aug

Making Housing and Community Happen is committed to helping churches and religious institution to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land, but most can’t do so because of zoning issues.  This summer  we were able to get  57 letters on this topic  sent to the City Council; our goal is 100 by the end of August. Please use the template and talking points below to write to the City Council.

Please use  this email to ensure that your comments become part of the public record: correspondence@cityofpasadena.net,

You can also add these emails to make sure that City Council members see your comments: vgordo@cityofpasadena.net, awilson@cityofpasadena.net, jerivas@cityofpasadena.net, gmasuda@cityofpasadena.net, fwilliams@cityofpasadena.net, smadison@cityofpasadena.net, johnjkennedy@cityofpasadena.net, thampton@cityofpasadena.net.

Talking points

Please consider using one of the following talking points when you write to the City Council or speak up. Be sure to preface your remarks by mentioning your name, district (or City Council member) and something about yourself, such as how long you’ve lived in Pasadena, your religious affiliation, or some story about the need for affordable housing that inspires you to speak or write. Remember to keep your remarks to 250 words or 1.5 minutes. It’s also a good idea to thank the Council for the good work they’ve done around affordable housing, but remind that much more needs to be done.

Dear Mayor Gordo and City Council members,

My name is ________________ and I am a member of _______________________________.  (your church, club, or neighborhood association, etc.. If you know your district or Congressmember, include that info. ) I urge you to support a city-wide zoning change that would make it feasible as well as possible for congregations to have affordable housing built on their underutilized land.

Talking point #1: I want to thank the Council for all you’ve done to create affordable housing in the City, but we clearly have not come close to meeting our RHNA goals or the vision of our City to provide “decent, safe and affordable housing  for every Pasadena resident” As you know, the City is required by the state to plan for nearly 6,000 units of affordable housing over the next eight years. This goal may seem impossibly high, but the need for affordable housing is critical. That’s why I feel that that rezoning religious land for affordable housing is a great idea that has been needlessly delayed and should be put back on the agenda and approved as soon as possible. It should also be in the Housing Element as long this doesn’t delay its implementation. A handful of churches across Pasadena are stepping up to offer their land for affordable housing, but they need the zoning to be changed so they can accomplish their vision. This zoning change will speed up the process of building the housing we need and will make the process considerably less expensive, making affordable housing dollars stretch further.

Talking point # 2: Why is this only for religious congregations? Affordable housing should be encouraged throughout the City, and congregations provide a unique opportunity for that to happen. This is a match made in heaven because their land is often vacant most of the week, with deferred maintenance on buildings they can’t afford to fix and facilities often built for congregations much larger than what they have today. Furthermore, congregations, the longtime social “glue” for our neighborhoods, have a vested interest in continuing to serve the community. Downsizing and/or gaining a little extra income helps them stay vital, playing a significant role in our community. Historically, religious groups have built hospitals, schools and retirement communities, it is natural for them today to supply housing for the community.
Talking point #3: Why is it important to allow affordable housing “by-right”? “By-right” means that a property owner has a right to build on their land. In this case, our proposal would give religious congregations the right to build housing that is at least 50% affordable at a contextually appropriate height and density. This matters because quality affordable housing developers know that applying for a discretionary approval in Pasadena takes at least one year, costs at least $100,000 in consultant and City fees, and may ultimately be denied. They are hence reluctant to partner with congregations lacking appropriate zoning. By-right affordable housing projects still require engagement with the community to improve the design, parking, etc., but the congregation’s right to build affordable housing would not be challenged.

You can still access rent relief funds!!! It’s not too late…

3 Aug

Evictions

 

We are grateful for the eviction moratorium and how it has prevented people from falling into homelessness and loosing their homes. We’re also grateful for the monetary support available that folks affected by the pandemic can still access. There are resources at the county, state and federal level if you or someone who know needs help. They will need to determine which resources is the best fit for them. Today in our local Star News, two articles in this blog will give you a start to find help.

As the co-founding director of Making Housing and Community Happen, I just did a workshop last week on the eviction moratorium. In it we framed eviction as a form of violence with the ripples of unsurmountable challenges that come with being displaced. God too feels that eviction is something that He despises as a form of injustice and even violence. 

“Thus says the Lord God: Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God. You shall have just balances, a just ephah, and a just bath.”- Ezekiel 45:9-10

“What sorrow awaits you who lie awake at night, thinking up evil plans. You rise at dawn and hurry to carry them out, simply because you have the power to do so. When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it. When you want someone’s house, you take it by fraud and violence. You cheat a man of his property, stealing his family’s inheritance.” -Micah 2:1-2

Evictions: As Federal Moratorium Ends, What Renter Projects Are Left?
“Many renters are concerned about their futures after the federal eviction moratorium put in place last year to keep tenants in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic expired over the weekend.” To continue reading, click HERE.

CCDA PRESENTATION 7-26-21 EVICTION MORATORIM_ (003) (1)

Resource and Reading List July 2021–CCDA Eviction Prevention

Click HERE to view Keeping People in their Homes: The Eviction Moratorium is Ending

CALTRANS Site a Hot Property

1 Aug

By Annakai Geshlider  — Pasadena Star News   Aug 1, 2021

Current tenants, affordable housing advocates and developers are vying for ownership of a Caltrans-owned building in South Pasadena.

The property, a 12-unit multifamily building at 626 Prospect Ave., is one of approximately 200 properties acquired by the agency during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s to make way for a 6.3-mile extension of the 710 freeway through Pasadena, South Pasadena, and El Sereno. After 60 years of activism fighting the freeway, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency nixed the proposed extension in November 2018.

The next year, current tenants and various developers submitted proposals to purchase and develop the property into affordable housing. Proposals had to adhere to the Roberti Act, a state bill specifically created to deal with surplus housing owned by Caltrans in the wake of the canceled 710 freeway extension.

Signed in 1979, the bill declares the sale of certain surplus residential properties must “directly serve an important public purpose,” and “preserve, upgrade and expand the supply of housing available to affected persons and families of low or moderate-income,” according to state code.

Pasadena Friendship wants to increase affordable housing during a time it is much needed, Pastor Lucious Smith, who also serves as the nonprofit’s president. “We are committed to keeping all 12 units affordable.”

Pasadena Friendship would allow current tenants to continue renting their units after renovation. But the current tenants — who occupy four of the 12 units and have lived at the property between 10 and 30 years — have different goals.

What the tenants want

“I want to be a homeowner,” said Candice Jackson, a Pasadena native who has lived there for 15 years. Jackson and her fiancée, Jaime Baeza, say they love living in the building despite frustrations with Caltrans as their landlord.

“We know everybody. We’re really tight,” said Baeza, 50, a handyman. Because of Caltrans’ “neglect,” Baeza said, fellow tenants now call on him for maintenance requests. He trims trees, cleans carports, waters plants and changes showerheads.

“It’s been a wonderful place to live,” said Sean Abajian, who has lived in the building for 10 years. Abajian and fellow tenants teamed up with the city of South Pasadena and nonprofit developer heritage Heritage Housing Partners to submit a proposal to Caltrans, which was denied.

The proposal would have developed 626 Prospect Ave into for-sale units:10 affordable and two at market rate. The sale of the latter would have subsidized the building’s much needed repairs, Abajian said. The affordable units would be priced at different tiers within the affordable housing range, targeting extremely low to moderate-income households.

For tenant Sam Burgess, 78, transforming the building into for-sale units would provide much-needed tax money to the city, which would not be possible if a nonprofit purchased the building. “Caltrans has not paid a penny in taxes since the 1960s,” he added.

Burgess, who began protesting Caltrans’ proposed 710 freeway expansion starting in 1974, believes the battle with Caltrans won’t be over until the units are sold. A retired stage, directing, and road manager, he has lived there for 30 years. Like fellow tenants, Burgess said significant building repairs are necessary. The tenants’ proposal for developing the building included $100,000-per-unit for repairs, he said — not to mention overdue sewer, water and electric repairs.

Burgess is not alone in questioning Caltrans’ handling of properties in the 710 corridor. After the freeway extension project was blocked in 2018, Caltrans agreed to sell properties in the corridor at affordable housing rates. When Caltrans adjusted those rates to meet inflation, a group of 710 corridor tenants sued the agency, arguing Caltrans was violating the Roberti Act.

The tenants alleged the inflated rates did not include them as low-income renters, and they should be able to purchase the homes at original prices. Caltrans originally paid for the properties in the 1960s. By March 2019, the tenants won — allowing their families to own the homes many of them had lived in for decades.

What the city of South Pasadena wants

After Caltrans awarded a bid to Pasadena Friendship in November, the nonprofit entered the process of purchasing the building. Then, on June 2, the city of South Pasadena filed for temporary restraining order to prevent Caltrans from selling the property to Pasadena Friendship. Escrow was supposed to close July 2.

626 Prospect Avenue in South Pasadena, a 12-unit multi-family residential building currently owned by Caltrans.

The city alleges Caltrans violated the Roberti Act by offering the property to Pasadena Friendship instead of giving current tenants the right to purchase, according to documentation from the July 1 ruling. The Roberti Act requires multifamily housing owned by Caltrans to be developed by designated “housing-related entities.”

In its proposal, Pasadena Friendship said it would work with a private, nonprofit housing-related entity affiliated with the church to purchase the property and transform it into affordable housing. The city says it should get priority because its own Housing Authority is a public housing-related entity.

In a bid submitted the same time as Pasadena Friendship’s, the city had vowed to team up with private developer New Prospect Development, an LLC formed by tenants of 626 Prospect Ave., and private nonprofit developer Heritage Housing Partners.

In a July 1 tentative ruling putting the sale on pause, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Stroebel said the Roberti Act does not explicitly prohibit a public housing-related entity, such as the South Pasadena Housing Authority, from purchasing a property and transferring it to another entity, such as Heritage Housing Partners.

With the temporary restraining order granted, a court hearing has been set for May 17.

For Pasadena Friendship, the city’s efforts to stop the sale came as a shock. The organization worked thoroughly to comply with the regulations given to them, to “dot every i, cross every t,” Smith, the church’s pastor, said. Pasadena Friendship reached out to the city to discuss the project, inform the city of the project’s goals, and asked if the city wanted to “engage in partnership” for the process — only to be met with no response.

“We’re not going in there trying to jack up rents,” Smith said. “Our commitment is to provide affordable housing, not to make a profit.”

According to a news release, Pasadena Friendship had opened escrow and complied with all the conditions of the Roberti Act — including offering the property to tenants for purchase — by the time the city filed suit. Pasadena Friendship may have to restart its purchasing process because of the length of time between now and the hearing.

Foursquare Church hosts party to support affordable housing

1 Aug

by Brennon Dixson

August 1, 2021 — Pasadena Star News

Crafts, dance and a chance to converse about the development of affordable housing on church land were prevalent Saturday at Pasadena Foursquare Church’s community celebration.

Free snow cones, cotton candy and popcornd were th draw for local families who stopped by on a hot day to enjoy the the evengt’s walk-through art exhibit and many raffles; however, the true purpose of the event was to rally for the institution of a city-wide zoning amendment to allow affordable housing on religious land.

Pasadena Foursquare Church already owns nine affordable housing units, but it wants to help other churches partner with affordable housing developers to meet the crisis that is driving up homelessness and causing public schools to close because families are leaving the city, the Rev Bert Newton said prior to the celebration.

“Pasadena is a great place to live, but the problem we’re facing is that a lot of people cant afford to live here anymore. Families are being forced to move away, so we need to find solutions, Newton said. “Ant this is a great event for neighbors to come together and meet each other and talk about these things and learn more about how to proote affordable housing for all income levels.

In an interview, Foursquare Church pastor Brita Pinkson added the idea to have a community celebration arose when she and others in the community began to think about the need for spaces “where we see each other and where we have a chance to get to be friends.”

She also realized the larger community is sometimes lost on to get involved in the fight.

“We really believe that people recognize there’s a problem, but theydon’t know who to email or who to call so they often feel so overwhelmed they don’t know their voice matters,” Pinkston said. “But theyneed to knwow that everybody has a say and we need all parts of Pasadena coming together, speaking their voice and recognizing we can create change if we come together.”

She hopes Saturday’s event would be the start of that realization.

Join us for affordable housing rally at City Hall!

29 Jul

Affordable housing coalition graphic for eviteAre you concerned about skyrocketing rents and housing prices? Join us at a Rally to Support Affordable Housing at Pasadena City Hall Steps, on Monday, August 2, 2021. 3:00 – 4:00 p.m. We are demanding that Pasadena’s updated Housing Element offer policies that can help solve our city’s affordable housing crisis. The Housing Element guides the city’s housing policy for the next 8 years, and the current draft is woefully inadequate. Please come to this rally and/or write to the City Council or speak out during public comment.

Write to City Council: correspondence@cityofpasadena.net

For talking points, go to: https://makinghousinghappen.net/2021/07/09/speak-out-about-affordable-action-this-month/

To speak during public comment, go to: https://www.cityofpasadena.net/city-clerk/public-comment/

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