Thursday, May 28, 2015

Orange Grove Friends Raise Concerns About Affordable Housing, Immigration Reform, and the Sacredness of each Human Being

I am pleased and grateful that Orange Grove Quakers support the leadings and activism of its Peace and Social Concerns Committee.  Such support makes a difference!

A year ago, Orange Grove  Meeting unanimously approved a minute in support of a Housing Commission for the city of Pasadena. Our clerk sent a letter to the City Council calling for "a permanent advisory body that provides housing recommendations to Council.....We believe that the weighty issues of affordable housing require a sustained attention of individuals committed to grappling with complex housing concerns."

Jill Shook at the Planning Commission
On May 27, over 25 people went to the Planning Commission to ask that more "sustained attention" be paid to affordable housing.  Five members of Orange Grove Meeting Meeting were present: Michelle White, Jill Shook, Peter Hartgens, Gretchen Davidson and myself. Six people (including Jill Shook, Michelle White and Peter Hartgen) stood up and spoke about the need for a housing commission.I spoke on behalf of Orange Grove, quoting from the minute we approved last year. The full text of my comments is below. 

The Greater Pasadena Area Housing Group (GPAHG) has been working on this issue for a long time and has attracted some top notch experts on affordable housing, including Michelle White and Jill Shook. They helped the City craft an award-winning Housing Element that calls for more affordable housing, but its goals have not been met and there is an urgent need for more action and accountability. Some City Council members see the importance of affordable housing, but are reluctant to start a new commission. Others simply don't see affordable housing as a priority, even though over 20,000 families in our City pay more than one third of their income on housing and countless others work in Pasadena but can't afford to live here. Homelessness has been reduced, but is still far too high. Affordable housing is discussed by the Planning Committee only twice a year, and many feel more attention needs to be devoted to this concern. As GPAHG member Ernie Siegal (a former Planning Commission member) noted, "Pasadena has Commission for Trees, but not for people who need affordable housing!"

The Planning Commission was impressed with the turnout and the depth of our concern, but chose to go along with the recommendation of the Housing Department, which opposes a Housing Commission. Members of the Planning Commission promised to devote more attention to affordable housing, but whether they do so will no doubt depend on how much pressure we concerned citizens exert. The price we pay for justice is eternal vigilance!

In addition to supporting affordable housing, Orange Grove Meeting approved a minute in support of immigration reform and refugee children crossing the border. See
Peace and Justice Academy students at the of Judy Chu

On May 13, I  took our Meeting's minute to the office of Judy Chu and delivered it to her aide, Matthew Hovsepian. To make this minute more memorable and effective, I was accompanied by seven middle schoolers from the Peace and Justice Academy, I used this opportunity to teach the kids what I have learned about lobbying from FCNL. In a nutshell, it's all about relationship-building. After I introduced the group and let Matt know the purpose of our visit (our "ask"), each student thanked Judy Chu for a particular piece of legislation which she supported and we approved. Then the kids shared why they were concerned about the refugee children and immigration reform. Some had gone to San Diego on a field trip and seen the border fence and learned about the issues first-hand. They had also seen La Bestia,  a documentary, about the "train of death" that carries thousands of refugees from Central America through Mexico. Many are robbed, raped, kidnapped, killed, or mutilated by train accidents. After the children shared their concerns, I gave Matthew Hopsepian the letters from Orange Grove Meeting. I'm sure he will never forget this visit!

The work for peace and justice cannot be a solo act. We need to work together and support each other as we seek to create what Martin Luther King called "the beloved community"--a community in which each individual is valued as sacred. In this beautiful struggle, every action, even simply writing your name on a petition, makes a difference. Thank you, Orange Grove Friends, for your support and prayers!

Comments Made at the Planning Commission on May 27, 2015

Good evening, Commissioners. My name is Anthony Manousos and I live in Northwest Pasadena with my wife, Jill Shook, and I am here to speak on behalf of a housing commission.  I love the diversity of Pasadena, especially Northwest Pasadena, and I believe strongly that there should be affordable housing for all who live in our beautiful city, not just the very wealthy.

I am here speaking on behalf of the Orange Grove Quaker Meeting, which has a long history in this city going back to 1907.  Our historic Meetinghouse is located on Orange Grove Boulevard in Northwest Pasadena, in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, right across the street from the Rancho Supermarket. We are deeply concerned about the housing needs of our low income neighbors, many of whom live in severely overcrowded conditions. We are also concerned about our homeless neighbors and are convinced that one of the best ways to reduce homelessness is through affordable housing. Last year, our Meeting unanimously supported the creation of a housing commission. We sent a letter to the City Council expressing our whole-hearted support of a permanent advisory body that provides housing recommendations to Council. Five members of our Meeting are present here today to stand up for affordable housing.

We believe that the weighty issues of affordable housing require a sustained attention of individuals committed to grappling with complex housing concerns. A permanent commission that has the time to consider such issues and make reasoned recommendations to City Council is best suited to assist the City in resolving our housing woes.

It has been argued that the City cannot afford to create another commission. In the past redevelopment funding that was slated for low income housing was diverted for almost 50 years to satisfy the City's obligations to police and fire pensioners. It is only equitable that the City now reorder its priorities to address the affordable housing needs of our most vulnerable citizens, as well as all the residents of our community. Given the urgency of the need, we can't afford not have a housing commission.

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