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/

Zoning issue slows Pasadena church’s effort to build affordable housing

19 Jul

By BRENNON DIXSON |

PUBLISHED in the Pasadena Star News: July 18, 2021 at 6:10 a.m. | UPDATED: July 19, 2021 at 6:01 a.m.

PAS-L-HOUSING-ELEMENT-0718

Richard Williams, deacon, Othella Medlock, Pastor, Joyce Hill, member of The Bethel Church of Pasadena, and Tina Williams, church member, at the New Life Holiness Church in Pasedena, Friday, July 16, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

“Take care of thy neighbor” is a tenet of religions around the world, and it’s exactly what many churches in Pasadena are attempting to do through the construction of affordable housing on their own hallowed grounds.

As a community-oriented church located in the North Central neighborhood, Pastor Othella Medlock of New Life Holiness Church said her congregation is mostly single-moms or working-class people whose families have been part of the church for generations. In its heyday, locals could tune into New Life’s weekly radio ministry on Sunday mornings after finding a meal at its food bank.

We used to participate in the Black history parade, and we had a carnival on the property every year,” Medlock said. “But as time has gone on, the membership has diminished significantly, mainly because people cannot afford to live in Pasadena.”

Luckily, her father had the foresight decades ago to purchase four parcels of land where she hopes to soon build affordable and senior housing for her congregation and the surrounding community.

“They’re in negotiations with a development partner, and they have their plan,” said Philip Burns, who works with The Arroyo Group to support congregations around Southern California who wish to build feasible affordable housing.

In total, there are nearly 50 churches in Southern California who have expressed interest in building housing on their lots, he added. “Unfortunately, the hang-up is zoning.”

Like many religious institutions in Pasadena, New Life Holiness Church is zoned strictly for commercial purposes, so no residential development is permitted onsite.

Under the city’s current laws, a church can house temporary shelters in its parking lots, but rent and other fees cannot be charged, and folks can only stay a maximum of 60 days.

California lawmakers attempted to address the problem last year through Senate Bill 899, which sought to allow religious institutions the chance to build 100% affordable housing projects through a process which wouldn’t require planning commission or city council approval, but it never was signed into law.

However, residents are putting their faith in Pasadena City Council members to make the change. After all, the council considered easing zoning restrictions back in October after pastors and members of the surrounding religious community met with City leaders.

Councilman Andy Wilson brought the matter to the council after it had been reviewed by the Planning Commission twice that summer. He called for a new law to allow for homes on church properties, but staff decided to incorporate such changes into the city’s blueprint for future residential development, called the housing element of the general plan.

Wilson said this week he still believes allowing homes on parcels owned by religious organizations would be a win all around.

Pasadena will be filing a new housing element with the state this fall, so hopefully the change is “imminent,” Wilson said. The proposal makes sense for a city that’s mandated to build 9,409 units of new residential units by 2029 to meet its assigned regional housing needs assessment.

“I hoped to have something occur more quickly, but it hasn’t been shared with council yet. Some of us were disappointed and wondered why we’re consolidating things if it seems like it could move more quickly by itself. But, we’re a few months away from having to file a housing element, so at this point I’m eager to see the specifics on how we can bring that option to life.”

As it currently stands, the draft housing element lists “create standards and a review process for the establishment of housing on religious institutions” as an objective. But the time frame to accomplish that is by 2025.

Burns believed the council was on the cusp of creating an ordinance last year, so he was surprised to see the timeline had been pushed back to 2025.

“We’ve been developing on city-owned land, which is great, but there’s only so much of that, and congregations are already social services-based institutions in the community that have extra space,” Burns said. “So, it’s the opportunity that makes the most sense.”

Burns said New Life Holiness Church’s development partner likely won’t wait for rule changes if the process doesn’t wrap up soon.

This has Medlock concerned the church would have to start the entire process from scratch if a decision isn’t made soon.

“It doesn’t make sense that we are willing, as Christians, to give and share this land that we have with the community, but we can’t,” she said. “We feel if we are given permission to do so, then we would be fulfilling the commission that we have been given by the higher power — that we serve while also serving the community at the same time.”

Protect Pasadena Renters! MHCH Housing Justice Forum

15 Jul

Protect Pasadena Renters!

Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction

Rent control flyer

Please join our MHCH monthly housing justice forum to learn about the Pasadena rent control campaign, which will stabilize rents, allow a fair return for landlords and help the 62% of Pasadena’s population who are renters.

Tuesday, July 27, at 7:00-8:30 pm

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZArcu2tpzksE9wQyYNeupNq_9LGCZwrq2A6

The rising cost of housing is one of the biggest purveyors of poverty. Over 20,000 households in Pasadena are spending more than 50% of their income on housing. This does not make for a vibrant community. Rent control combined with just cause eviction is a necessary and significant step towards stabilizing soaring rents that are pushing people out of our city. 70% of Black households are renters and 68% of Latino households are renters.

Speakers:

michelle whiteMichelle White is the Executive Director of Affordable Housing Services, which provides affordable housing to low and very low income families, as well as permanent supportive. shared housing for women who have been unhoused or at risk of same.  She presently also engages in advocacy on behalf of low and very income households, especially households of color. She has been a trial attorney with the Civil Rights Division of the US Justice Department and is presently affiliated with the Pasadena/Foothills Chapter of  ACLU, the Pasadena Branch of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters – Pasadena Area and other groups.

ryan bellRyan Bell is a tenant in Pasadena. He has lived in Los Angeles county for the past 16 years and Pasadena for the past 7 years. Ryan works as the Southern California Regional Organizer for Tenants Together, a state-wide tenants rights organization. He is a member organizer with the Pasadena Tenants Union and the co-chair of the Pasadena Tenant Justice Coalition. He was previously a candidate for Pasadena City Council (District 6) and currently serves on the Northwest Commission.

pasadena tenants justiceptuMHCH Logo 3

 

 

Speak out about affordable action this month!

9 Jul

Monday, August 2, is your last chance to weigh in on Pasadena’s Housing Element, an eight-year plan required by the state to ensure that Pasadena plans for sufficient affordable housing to meet the needs of its residents, especially those who are low-income or unhoused.


Making Housing and Community Happen supports a menu of policies (scroll down to see some of our top choices), but we are focusing primarily on allowing congregations to have affordable housing built on their land. We want to see this agendized and passed as soon as possible. 

Choose one of the talking points below, personalize it, and either send it to Council and City Clerk using the emails below, or speak out during Public Comment.

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..) I am speaking on item 11, the Housing Element.

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: I urge the City Council to incentivize affordable ADUs and Junior ADUs.  This is absolutely necessary if the Council is serious about meeting the goals for ADUs set in the current Housing Element. We need more flexibility on ADUs (such as building a second story ADU unit above a parking garage). The state allows ADUs to be 17 feet high, but Pasadena requires a 12 foot top plate making it impossible to build over a garage. That doesn’t make sense. Perhaps that’s why the new Housing Element calls on the Council to “investigate new and creative approaches to providing housing, such as allowing units to be built on top of….. parking structures” (p. 35). I urge you to not just “investigate” this policy but make it so! Pasadena need to find new and creative ways to make it less costly and less time intensive to develop ADUs. I suggest that you check out  the City of Los Angeles ADU Accelerator Program. ADUs are a proven way to meet our City’s need for more affordable housing!

Talking point # 3: I urge the Council to consider allowing affordable housing to be built 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. I recommend that you check out the  Berkeley Terner Center Report on Residential Redevelopment of Commercially Zoned Land in California. This report shows the value of allowing commercial land to be used for affordable housing. I also recommend that you streamline the approval process for deed-restricted, affordable housing, and permanent supportive housing within 30 days of application. If we are going to meet our RHNA goals of nearly 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next 8 years, we need to make it easier for affordable housing developers to do their job.

Talking point # 4:  We have a superabundance of luxury apartments in Pasadena, far more than we need, and many of these units are vacant. That’s why we need to consider a vacancy tax to incentivize landlords to either rent up or lower the cost of rent to make their vacant properties more affordable. A vacant property  tax  or VPT was passed by the City of Oakland in 2018. The Oakland VPT establishes an annual tax of $3,000 to $6,000 on vacant property. The City of Oakland VPT covers both residential and nonresidential property types. I urge Pasadena to consider a similar tax or fee for our city. The fees from vacant properties could be used to help subsidize affordable housing.

Talking point #5:  I urge you to consider an affordable housing impact fee, just as we have an impact fee to fund parks. We need a dedicated source of funding for affordable housing, and not just rely on in lieu fees. Our city is building far more luxury apartments than we need, and the cost of rents keep rising as a result. 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 would be collected and dedicated towards affordable housing. Studies show that these fees can be effective (See the  Berkeley Terner Center Report on Residential Impact Fees. Grand Nexus Study on Impact Fees in San Mateo County.) If we are to reach out City’s RHNA goals, we need to consider new sources of funding for affordable housing and not rely on the status quo, which hasn’t worked.

Talking point # 6:  We need to ensure that affordable housing is kept permanently affordable. Preserving affordable housing is a lot cheaper than building it. Unfortunately, affordable housing covenants have a date of expiration, typically around 50 years. Community land trusts keep housing affordable in perpetuity. They are a great model, especially for affordable homeownership. Homeowners own their homes, but the land is owned by the trust. People buy homes below market rate and are required by the Trust to sell them below market rate. Making Housing and Community Happen is in the process of starting a Community Land Trust in the San Gabriel Valley. We’d like the City of Pasadena to participate in this CLT once it’s off the ground. Community Land Trusts have a racial justice component. They were started in the 1960s by African American farmers and today there are over 300 CLTs throughout the United States in large cities as well as rural areas. We need a CLT in our region and our city’s support could help expedite this process.

 
 

:

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

Dr. Jill Shook’s sermon on housing justice at Knox Presbyterian Church

22 Jun

 

Jill preaching at KnoxMy husband Anthony and I love to sing “Everyone “neath their vine and fig tree” to guests when they visit our home as we dine under our grape arbor, which is next to a fig tree. This motif is a repeated symbol in Scripture of a secure home. So, imagine this peaceful setting as I share with you today, but let’s also imagine how God shakes us out of our false security when we ignore God’s mandate to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).

It is my prayer this morning that God would use me and these words as his vessel of love and justice.

After reading the seven chapters of Micah in one setting, I felt like I had just been on a roller coaster, with God’s severe judgment and severe mercy swinging back and forth throughout the book. Some find it hard to mix judgment with God’s love, but Micah has gifted us with a message in how to do this.

Micah was from Moresheth-Gath, a small town in southwest Judah, where Goliath was slain by David.  Micah’s father’s name is not given, which suggests that Micah was a descendent of the common people. Growing up in a small rural town, Micah likely took courage from the story of Goliath when he boldly called out God’s message of severe judgement on Judah and Jerusalem and 11 cities in chapter 2. It struck me that he was not calling out individuals by name, but cities. Micah championed the poor by condemning oppressors who gobbled up the land of peasants.   

Repeatedly God tells Israel that if she fails to keep God’s law, she will lose her land. They had unjustly taken land, now theirs was being taken. With severe mercy, God was now pushing people from their homes and their land. By calling out the cities in advance, they would know that God is just, going to any length to wake them up. And God is using humans, common people like Micah to announce this news.

Micah was the first prophet to predict the downfall of Jerusalem and told them to get ready to grieve the loss of their land. Most of the Hebrew prophets spoke to cities and nations, not to individuals. And so should we. Like Moses who spoke to Pharaoh, and Esther who spoke to the King, we speak to decision makers, to elected officials, to bring about justice and redemption.

Because our American culture is so individualistic, we often read the Bible in a personal way, as if it is only about personal sin, and we miss the sin of cities and nations—of cultures of violence supported by unjust structures, unjust allocations of land and funds, and un-just policies and priorities.

For example, Pasadena was beginning to experience a growing homeless crisis in the 90s but didn’t have a housing department to address this. We advocated for a housing department, and we got one. We now have Bill Huang as our Housing Director, who is deeply respected and committed to house our unhoused neighbors. Thanks to him, and a shift in thinking toward ending homelessness, as opposed to managing homelessness, and thanks to our advocacy efforts, the work of homeless service providers, and concerned churches and citizens, the homeless count in Pasadena declined by 56 % from 1,216 in 2011 to 527 in 2020.  To me, this is astounding considering how most other cities are seeing dramatic increases.

This process of cultural and structural change around well-researched best practices is what I call the redemption of the city.

But the cities that Micah called out were beyond redemption.

So, what was the sin and rebellion of the cities of Israel and Judah that Micah outlines as meriting such severe judgement?

It had to do with believing in false prophets more interested in money than in truth telling. It had to do with taking land and homes from the poor. Jerusalem was doomed because its beautification was financed by dishonest business practices, which impoverished the city’s citizens. 

In Micah Chapter 2: 2 is says:

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.

What does this remind you of?  Of homes of our brothers and sisters being bulldozed in Palestine? …“You take homes by fraud and violence” What about Bruce’s Beach taken from African Americans by eminent domain 100 year ago by the city of Manhattan Beach? … “You cheat a man out of his property and find a way to steal it.” It has been so hopeful for me to learn this may become the first time in the US that land taken may actually be returned to Blacks as a form of reparations.

What about closer to home where thousands of homes were taken from African Americans where the 210 Freeway and Parson’s engineering now sits? …“When you want a piece of land, you find a way to seize it.” What about when the city refuses to allow the proper zoning, so a church’s dream is possible of having affordable housing on its underutilized land?  This is the case on N. Fair Oaks.  

Micah also lists eviction as one of the other sins that God abhors:

Verse 2:9 says, you have evicted women from their pleasant homes
    and forever stripped their children of all that God would give them.

This verse reminds me of all the migrant children fleeing violence and seeking peace, who have been stripped of all God would give them. It also reminds me of those who are hanging on for dear life to their homes, having to choose between eating or paying rent. It’s very hard to imagine what it’s like for 66,000 people—almost half the size of Pasadena—who now make sidewalks and encampments their home in LA County …reminiscent of Calcutta. “People stripped of all that God has for them.”

In his powerful, award-winning book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in America, Matthew Desmond has helped us to imagine how it’s possible that folks can spiral down into homelessness, and also to imagine the systemic factors at play. Desmond reminds us that once an eviction is on your record you have little chance of finding another place to live. He estimates 1 million evictions a year take place in the US. Matthew Desmond sums this injustice up by saying that “Black women are locked out, and Black men are locked up.” 

There are probably few if any members of Knox who have been evicted (or locked up), but if you go to some the African American Churches in town, too many are them are emptying out, in a sense evited from our city, because of skyrocketing housing costs, and being locked out of better paying jobs. 

Let me bring this closer to home, it is estimated that 1 in 5 students at PCC across the street are homeless, that is 19%! I spoke to a collage professor two weeks ago who said the there was at least one homeless student in every one of her classes. Could a vision be fostered whereby PCC’s large parking lots could have stacked parking with low-income apartments? This is not impossible.

Many in our city are “over-housed,” according to Pasadena Housing Director, Bill Huang. He says that many homeowners, especially older ones whose children have left for college, have more bedrooms than they need.

Here, I want to tell you a story of what happened when I was on staff at Lake Avenue Church, and director of the STARS after school tutoring program. Most of the low-income kids we served were living in overcrowded conditions. Several of our youth lived in a home with 10 families!!

I was driving some of these kids in my 8 passenger green Ford Taurus up toward Sierra Madre. Their eyes got bigger as the homes got bigger, and one said, “There must be a lot of families who live there!!” When I explained that it was probably just one couple, they said, “They must feel really lonely!” They may well be right.

Home sharing programs across the US are addressing both over-crowding, over-housed communities, and student homelessness and loneliness—reweaving society, changing cultures, and creating life-giving structures that reflect God’s justice and mercy. Perhaps such a program could take hold here if there is a vision for this.

For the past 7 years, my husband Anthony and I have housed a brilliant formerly homeless man in our back house. He has become like family. Each Wednesday we enjoy a meal, a time of prayer and Bible study. I wish you could all be part of these delightful discussions from a formerly homeless perspective. We have been humbled and transformed.

If you live in a single-family home, I want you to imagine what is in your back yard. Let’s consider how we might be better stewards what God has given us and how we might be blessed to house a student or an unhoused neighbor.

I believe Micah’s message to us is one of hope. Hope is fostered as we participate in action and see results. From Micah we see that God is real, that God does what he says. Micah foretells the destruction of Jerusalem, which was subsequently destroyed three times, the first one being the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. About 150 years later, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC.

Micah also tells us of an ideal that could be made real. God does not settle but give us an ideal to strive for with the mandate and means to do accomplish this ideal.  The heart of this message is in Micah chapter 4, the focus of my sermon today.

Listen to chapter 4: verses 2-4:  

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of Jacob’s God.
There he will teach us his ways,
    and we will walk in his paths.”
The Lord will mediate between peoples
    and will settle disputes between strong nations far away.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
    nor train for war anymore.
Everyone will live in peace and prosperity,
    enjoying their own grapevines and fig trees,
    for there will be nothing to fear.
The Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    has made this promise!

Here settling disputes without implements of war, is interlinked with peasant farmers freed from military oppression. Due to conflict and war, in 2020 alone, 82.4 million people in the world were displaced—all in just one year!! I thank God for the example of Knox to help house some of those displaced. I believe that God is telling us if we ended war, we’d keep people in their homes and we could live in peace, and secure, everyone under their own vine and fig tree.

Is ending war possible? Are there alternatives that work?  One of my favorite authors, Walter Wink in his book, Engaging the Powers, lists a sample of 73 significant conflicts resolved without a gunshot. I also love to point to Costa Rica, a county that chose to have no military, but instead invest in education and environmental initiatives. Compared to other Latin America countries, Costa Rica is thriving!

Is ending homelessness possible? A resounding yes! We know what ends homelessness, and its homes. Just one policy we helped get passed in 2001—and again we strengthened in 2019, requires that 20% of all new housing be set aside as affordable. This inclusionary policy has produced over 1,000 affordable units spread throughout the city, at no cost to the city.

In the past two years, our ASHA team has been able to build hope with multiple prayer vigils and implements of change to create multiple wins, gaining approval of 149 PSH—permanent supportive housing units, which ends chronic homeless.  They won the approval of another 112 affordable senior housing units with 10% for those experiencing homelessness right in the city center by the city hall.  

When one has their own vine and fig tree, a secure place to call home, with the support to thrive, not just survive, we end homeless for that one person.

Cynthia Kirby was homeless for 10 years in E. Pasadena and thanks to permanent supportive housing and the grace of God her life has turned around.  Today she is employed by the Baptist Church, reunited with her husband and daughter and is getting straight As in her college classes!

Dorothy Edwards was also homeless here in Pasadena for 17 years and is now in her secure apartment, and on the national board for the corporation of supportive housing speaking around the US.

Marv’s place, which looks like a Mediterranean villa and is not far from here, on the corner of Union and Mar Vista houses 19 formerly homeless families, none of whom worked and today all are thriving, going back to school or are fully employed. The stability of a home changed everything.

Even though most of our Bible translations may entitle Micah 4 as “God’s future reign”, I believe that this not about the future, but rather as Jesus said, the kingdom of God is at hand, present now, today. And that this passage is more about setting a standard of God’s ideal today. “Thy will be done on earth… in Pasadena, at Knox… as it is in heaven.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”.

To change our world and our cities, we need to change our thinking—to see housing as a right, not a commodity. I was delighted to see that a recent LA Times editorial promoted housing is right. The United Nations has recognized a right to housing for decades, but this document authored largely by Eleanor Roosevelt was never ratified by the US.  Micah is saying that it is God’s intention for everyone to have a right to housing, to live under their vine and fig tree, at peace and unafraid.  

Micah’s beautiful vision came out of a time when people were being ravaged by injustice and losing their homes and going into exile. Micah said that he ‘howled like a jackal and moaned like an owl” as he grieved over the destruction of these cities. Grieving is an important part of justice work.  

Do we let ourselves feel the pain of our unhoused neighbors and immigrants fleeing violence and fear? When we get to know our homeless neighbors by name and hear the stories of people forced into exile by war, we are forever changed.

In 7:8 Micah said, “Though I sit in darkness, I will rise again” and in 5:1 Micah challenged those called to destroy Jerusalem to “Mobilize!! Marshall your troops!”

With the love of Christ in our hearts we need to mobilize and marshal people of faith and conscience “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Our seemingly humble actions really do make a difference. When we go to the City Hall, I often see our elected officials’ heads bobbing as they count the number of people mobilized who are taking a stand. They need to borrow our courage and belief that God’s vision for cities is possible, today.  They need to know we have their back so they can be courageous and stand against the status quo.

It will take a holy army to change our policies. It has taken an army to get people like Cynthia Kirby and Dorothy Edwards housed. Not just the service providers, but changed policies, changed thinking, secured apartments, secured land, financing, architects, volunteers, and generous donors.  But each human being made in God’s image is worth it. These women are secure in their own apartments, where they pay only a third of their income on rent.

But most renters don’t have this security. Half of Pasadena pays more than 50% of their income on rents or mortgages and there is nothing that prevents a landlord from increasing rents as much as they can. Rent control is a great policy, but it has been given a very bad rap. We desperately need this in place.

It will take an army of committed people to institute this policy and debunk all the misconceptions about it. Anthony and I spent hours having a blast getting to know our neighbors and asking them to sign the official petitions a few years ago. It was a delight to see how many were eager to sign, even landlords. But we were just shy of the 13,000 signatures needed!

Micah has inspired my Quaker husband as well as many others to work to end war. And it has inspired us both to work so that everyone can have decent and secure homes that everyone can afford. This makes for a healthy mixed-income city, lowers traffic, brings investment and all kinds of local benefits. CA recognizes this as a best practice, requiring that every city plan for enough housing for all income levels. But the key word here is “plan.” …it doesn’t require implementation. No laws require that affordable housing be built, but today it is one of the biggest needs. All affordable housing is built due to advocacy.

Each year Anthony goes to Washington DC, to join hundreds of other Quakers who lobby elected officials to end war and poverty. Their vision is to seek a world free of war and the threat of war, a society with equity and justice for all. They haven’t reached that goal yet, but have had many victories along the way, such as this week’s passage in the House of the Repeal of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Iraq. This authorization has been used as a “blank check” by Presidents to justify military interventions.  Recently Anthony helped to orchestrate powerful coalitions of folks to meet with Feinstein and Padilla that helped to push this forward.

Our nonprofit, Making Housing and Community Happen, is seeking to end poverty by ending housing insecurity and homelessness. We are doing this with an amazing network of churches and volunteers and partners. Our seven teams do research, show up, speak with courage and truth and the love of Christ. We are creating the world we seek.  

We chose the vine and fig tree as a motif on the logo of our nonprofit as a reminder that God’s intention is for everyone to be housed in peace.  

We know this is possible. When Congress passed the Housing Act of 1968, it committed the nation to the goal of producing 2.6 million units of affordable housing a year. As a result, in the early 1970s we were close to meeting the need for affordable housing, but since then HUD and other programs for housing have been cut every year, even though the need has increased. At the time, half of the US budget is for our military, squeezing out domestic spending. Funding priorities are one of factors leading to today’s housing crisis.

It takes faith to imagine a world as it should be, especially with 66,000 people experiencing homelessness in LA County, but it was not always so. And other counties have figured out how to adequately house their population.

Examples give us hope. The vision of the vine and fig tree give us hope.Ending war and poverty is not an impossible dream because we know it is God’s intention.

Great things can happen in small cities and towns. Micah predicted that messiah would be born in Bethlehem, Micah 5:2 says, 

But you, O Bethlehem
    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.
Yet a ruler of Israel,
    whose origins are in the distant past,
    will come from you on my behalf.”

I John 15 Jesus is referred to himself as the vine, the true vine and we the branches. Let us cling to this vine as we lift God’s intentions for a world in which everyone is housed, and lives at peace and unafraid.   

Dr. Shook’s Sermon at Knox Presbyterian

Yes in God’s Back Yard

19 Jun

Lisa Williams

Lisa Williams is pastor of San Pedro United Methodist Church. She has helped lead a movement to shelter and house the un-housed in San Pedro and throughout Los Angeles County. She has worked with San Pedro United Methodist Church to create a vision and plan for an empty lot on the church’s property to become permanent, affordable housing.

Pastor Lisa Williams will explain how she addressed NIMBYism (“Not in My Back Yard”) by creating a vision and a plan to build supportive housing on an empty lot on her church’s property (YIGBY-“Yes in God’s Back Yard). She will explain how she became a catalyst for building stronger relationships and creating conversations in the community with elected officials, community leaders,  service providers and those who are fearful of their homeless
neighbors .

Tuesday, June 22 at 7pm

To register: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZ0pcOqupjgoHNJWy-jIOlrNuWyvIcOPebSO

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

PDF Flyer for YES IN GOD’S BACK YARD with Lisa Williams

MHCH Housing News for 2021

11 Jun

Here are our housing news for 2021:

Friday, June 4th Affordable Housing News. Our Executive Director is astonished when a city official immediately agrees to all her “asks” regarding Accessory Dwelling Unit. State Senator Portantino proposes a promising new bill to incentivize cities to encourage conversion of unneeded office space to affordable housing. And more….

%d bloggers like this: