Thursday, July 21, 2016

How do housing commissions help cities develop more affordable housing?

Should Pasadena create a Housing Commission? This was the topic of a Friendly Debate hosted by the City of Pasadena Housing and Career Services Departments and moderated by Dan Davidson, pastor of Rose City Church.

Debaters (all Pasadena residents) included:

Pro: Michelle White- Affordable Housing Services, Jill Shook - Author/Catalyst, Rev. Hannah Petrie - Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church.

Against: Charles Loveman - Heritage Housing Partners, Blair Miller - City of Pasadena Design and Transportation Advisory Commissions, Ali Barar AIA - Gonzalez Goodale Architects.

Rev. Hannah Petrie started the conversation with an inspiring vision for our city:

“With an AHC, Pasadena could be a model of urban development that ensures diversity, economic generation, and environmental innovation.” We shouldn’t settle for “this is the way of the world.” There’s a better one possible, but yes, it will take more effort and funds. (See Justice hustle)

All agreed that affordable housing needs to be a top priority in our city, but they differed on whether a new commission would effectively address the housing crisis. Those opposed were concerned mainly about cost and staff time. They felt that Pasadena already has too many commissions and that a housing commission might slow down rather than increase the development of affordable housing. They also felt that the housing department is so effective it doesn't need outside help. 

Those who support a housing commission noted that even though Pasadena has an excellent housing director and housing department, over 23,000 families are "cost burdened" with respect to housing (i.e. spending more than a third of their income on housing) and are on the Section 8 waiting list. Half the teachers in the city can't afford to live here. Half of the African American population has left in the last 25 years because of gentrification. Advocates cited examples from cities where housing commissions have helped change policies and thereby created more affordable housing. A housing commission can also foster more community input and generate new ideas and perspectives. As Jill noted:

JILL: In the past week I’ve spoken with five housing managers, or liaisons to housing related
Commissions in CA.
Dave Popf, the assistant housing manager of San Jose’s Housing Department stated that their Housing and Community Development Commission is really good for providing a forum for public input and that they take a burden off of the staff and the City Council. The Commissioners focus on policy research and support. They do not delay decisions, but if things like fast tracking affordable units is not working, they seek to fix this. Last year this commission served a key role in reducing rental increases from 8% to no more than a 5 % per year. In addition to providing public input on the HUD Consolidated plan, annual related action plans and the Housing Element, this Commission helped the city as it defended a lawsuit designed to invalidate its inclusionary zoning ordinance.  The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and now serves as precedent for protecting other Inclusionary Housing Ordinances.
Suzanne Ise, in Sunnyvale, CA explained that their Housing and Human Services Commission played an important role in the recent passage of an additional Impact fee that is currently generating 8 million dollars a year for affordable housing.
San Diego’s Housing Commission has done an excellent job of evaluating policy and legislation impacts on the preservation and production of affordable housing.
The Pleasanton, CA housing commission initiated and is now pursuing opportunities for the production and preservation of affordable housing, not only within the City, but in the region.
Other Commissions garner support for Council approved policy, programs and other proposals. Still others conduct research, do studies and undertake best practices experiments on housing and bring in experts for educational forums.
In the slide above you can see the duties that the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group recommends for our city’s Affordable Housing Commission.
In the countless conversations I have had with folks in Pasadena about the need for an Affordable Housing Commission, they respond with things like, “you mean we don’t have one? If not, we certainly need one!” 
People often call me about complex housing issues they’re facing and have no idea where to turn. We clearly need an on ongoing public space where folks can regularly share their concerns, and learn what resources they can access.
Mayor Tornek has reaffirmed his whole hearted support for a Housing Commission, saying, “We have a commission for trees and one for bikes, of course we need a commission for housing!” Steve Madison, Tyron Hampton and John Kennedy also to support a Housing Commission. We need only one more vote!

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