Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Homelessness on the rise in Pasadena: What Can We Do About it?

The numbers on homelessness in Pasadena are now official, and they aren't good. We can no longer pat  ourselves on the back and say that we've reduced homelessness by 58%, as was true several years ago. The number of our homeless neighbors living on the street increased 33% in the past year, the second year in a row that the numbers have gone up. There has been a 65% increase in homeless residents over the age of 50. We also learned that 50% of our homeless neighbors were living in Pasadena when they lost their housing, and the high rents are a major cause of homelessness in our city. On Monday, May 1, we went to hear the City Council's reaction to these disturbing statistics. Below is our response to what we heard from our City Council.

But first, the stats:


A growing number qf people in Pasadena are homeless. On the night of the 2018 Pasadena Homeless Count, there were 677 people experiencing homelessness, 18% more than in 2017 (575). • The sharpest Increases were seen among those living on the streets, in parks, encampments, vehicles, or other places not meant for human habitation.

During the 2018 Homeless Count, 462 people were living on the streets, or 68% of the total
homeless population. That number is 33% higher than the number of unsheltered persons in 2017 (347). 

• People living on the streets are our neighbors. Half (50%) of respondents living on the street were living in Pasadena when·they most recently lost their housing, up slightly from 2016 ( 48% ). · ·
 • The homeless population in Pasadena is getting older. Between 2016 and 2018, there was a 65% increase in the number of persons over age 50 who were homeless; from 153 in 2016 to 253 in 2018.
 • Impacts of the housing crisis evident. There was a significant increase (36%) in the number of persons who did not meet HUD's definition of chronic homelessness, . meaning they were not homeless for more than 12 months or did not have a qualifying disability (including substance use or mental illness). For this population, high rents and a shortage of housing caused them to fall ·into homelessness. In 2016, the housing cost burden for the lowest-income renter households in Pasadena exceeded 100%, meaning their income was not enough to cover rent. . The full report is available on the Pasadena Partnership to End Homelessness website, at

Skyrocketing rents  are a major factor in the rise of homelessness, a fact that the City Council has yet to acknowledge or is willing to do anything about. (They all oppose rent control.)  Here's what I was able to find about rents in Pasadena from rent jungle:

As of March 2018, average rent for an apartment in Pasadena, CA is $2345 which is a 2.99% increase from last year when the average rent was $2275 , and a 1.07% increase from last month when the average rent was $2320.

One bedroom apartments in Pasadena rent for $2138 a month on average (a 1.92% increase from last year) and two bedroom apartment rents average $2709 (a 6.68% increase from last year). 

To afford a two-bedroom apartment, a family would have to earn $97,000.

The  median income for households in Pasadena is $76,000.

That means over half the families in Pasadena are cost burdened, pay over 30% of their income on rent. Many low-income families are paying more than half their income on rent. Most city workers and teachers cannot afford to live in Pasadena, which is why the School Board supports rent control. 

Here are our responses to what we heard on Monday night's City Council meeting:

An Open Letter to the City Council 

We want to commend the Housing Department for producing such a well-researched report on the current state of homelessness in our city. We need good solid data like this in order to make good policy.

We are also grateful to the City Council for showing interest in addressing the escalating homelessness crisis in our city. The need is urgent, and growing. And our homeless residents won’t go away. As we learned from this report, over half are Pasadena residents, and many are elderly.

We agree with Mr. Madison that having homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks is bad for business. But studies show we can’t police our way out of this problem. Homeless people need to sleep somewhere. As Dana Bean of Union Station has said, the “key to ending homelessness is housing,” not fining or jailing, our homeless population.

Some homeless people are “service resistant” because they don’t want to live in shelters (and few of us would choose this option!). But as the Mayor rightly points out, the vast majority would happily live in an apartment if they had a chance to do so.

We agree with Mr. Tornek that ending homelessness seems “intractable,” but that’s because of a lack of political will, not lack of resources. The City has land and can access funding that would significantly reduce homelessness in our city. For example, the Heritage Square South property could house 69 out of 80 homeless seniors in our city, practically ending homelessness among our elderly population. It would also reduce our homeless count by over 10%. That’s not insignificant. We need to find out how many homeless Pasadena residents could be housed in the four or five other city-owned properties.

We commend Mr. Wilson for pointing out that now is the time to address this crisis since the economy is doing well and funding is available. If the City waits too long, and the economy tanks or the funding in DC dries up, we won’t have the resources and our homeless problem in Pasadena could escalate, as it did in Los Angeles.
We commend McAustin and Kennedy for asking the Housing Department to provide a list of city-owned properties that could be used for permanent supportive housing. We also feel it’s a good idea to ask developers how many units could be developed on each property so we will know by how much we can reduce the current homeless population if we utilize city-owned land. Can we house 10%, 20%, 50% or maybe more of our homeless population? 

We also commend Mr. Kennedy for wanting to have a “Blue Ribbon Commission” to address this crisis. However, we feel it would be better to have an Affordable Housing Commission that could provide ongoing advice and help the City Council make prudent and effective decisions regarding our city’s growing housing crisis.

We agree with the Mayor that it is costly to house homeless people—as much as $450,000 per unit. But much of that cost could be covered by federal and state dollars. If inclusionary funding is used for permanent supportive housing, and not spent exclusively on affordable homeownership, we could leverage inclusionary dollars to create permanent supportive housing that would significantly reduce homelessness at reduced cost to the city. This would improve the quality of life for everyone in the city. Fewer homeless people means fewer people complaining to the Mayor!

We also agree with the Mayor and others who feel it’s time to revisit and revise the inclusionary policies so that we can create more affordable housing for our city. In order to capture more affordable units within density bonus properties, we need to increase the percentage of set aside units.[1]

The Mayor says we need immediate solutions, and creating housing takes a long time. This is true, but we feel that both immediate and long-term solutions are needed. We need to provide funding for homelessness prevention and rapid rehousing—a cost effective way to reduce homelessness. We also need to make plans to house a growing homeless population while we still have land and resources to do so.

Several Council members spoke of refurbishing abandoned buildings and purchasing hotels. This possibility is worth exploring but there are some caveats. It’s extremely expensive to purchase and refurbish a motel, even a cheap motel or run-down property. Where will the City get money to buy these properties?  It certainly doesn’t make sense to purchase a dilapidated property, displace the low-income residents, and then build permanent supportive housing.  In Los Angeles there are lots of virtually abandoned properties that can be refurbished for homeless residents, as happened recently with the historic King Edward hotel. But where are such abandoned properties available here in Pasadena?

We commend Mr. Gordo for wanting the Housing Department to explore multiple sites, like Shakey’s.  We will need more than one site if we’re going to reduce the homeless population in our city.

As Mr. Gordo rightly implies, we need permanent supportive housing throughout our city.  The City Council of Los Angeles has made a commitment to have permanent supportive housing in every district of the city. We urge this City Council to do likewise. This is the only way to prevent an “oversaturation” of permanent supportive housing in one area of the city.

Mr. Gordo brings up the question of “social justice.” For him, social justice means not having too much affordable housing in one area. Yet when it came to getting rid of a “blighted” liquor store, he was willing to make an exception and ask the City Council to use inclusionary funds to build affordable housing in an area “saturated” with affordable housing. The City Council agreed to do this because it felt that this exception served the public good.

We would like to see the City council make a similar exception for Heritage Square South since housing the homeless is also a public good. Unlike Summit Grove, the Heritage Square property was purchased with HUD and other funding for affordable housing and is an “affordable housing asset,” Selling this property for exclusively commercial use would mean forfeiting a million dollars in HUD funding. Housing homeless and poor elderly people is true social justice.

The Mayor seems to feel that it doesn’t make sense to spend $450,000 to create a unit of housing for a homeless senior. That seems like a lot but spread over a 30-year period, that’s $15,000 per year, which is a lot cheaper than the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in this city.

The Mayor also says: Why should the least able to pay receive the most expensive housing? Actually elderly people of means pay a lot more on housing than what is spent to house homeless seniors. It costs $12,000 a month (at least) to house elderly rich folk in Montecedro. It isn’t cheap to house the elderly and provide the services they need. The average cost of assisted living in California in 2017 iwas $4,050 / month. That’s nearly $50,000 per year. Studies show that it is a lot less expensive to house  homeless seniors than let them sicken and die on the street.

What are the financial benefits of housing homeless seniors? Homeless seniors generally cost society more money in health care than younger and healthier homeless residents. Though it is counter-intuitive, research shows that it is less expensive to house homeless people than to let them live on the street. A Rand study showed that housing homeless residents has saved the county $1.20  for every dollar spent on housing and supportive services.[1] According to an Economic Roundtable study, the cost of  a homeless individual living on the streets in LA County was around $5038 per month, vs $605 per month when they were provided with supportive housing. These costs increase with the age of homeless individuals. Based on this study, we can estimate the cost to Pasadena of having 69 homeless seniors living on the street to be around $4,171,464 per year. Housing these  Pasadena residents in supportive housing would run around $500,940 (most of which could be covered by Measure H funding), a savings of $3,670,524. This would be a huge financial benefit to our City. [2]

[1] “The financial impact of the program [supportive housing] could be dramatic, according to the report, which analyzed the experiences of 890 participants. The cost of services provided to those in the program fell by 60 percent in the year after they found permanent housing (from an average of $38,146 in the year before to $15,358 the next year).That drop is partially offset by the cost of operating the program (participants receive $825 per month housing vouchers and case management services worth about $450 per month). But, even with those costs factored in, the study found a 20 percent decrease in county expenses related to those residents.”
[2] These statistics are taken from the Economic Roundtable website and date back to 2009.

[1] Inclusionary zoning means that a developer who builds more than, say, 10 units must set aside a certain percentage to be affordable  or else pay an “in lieu” fee or donate land for affordable housing. This percentage of set aside and fees vary from city to city, but generally is between 15-30%. Many feel that the fees and the set asides in Pasadena are too low and need to be raised to create more affordable housing.  Developers can also get “density bonuses” (i.e. build more units than allowed under zoning requirements) if they build extra affordable units. Inclusionary zoning has created more than 500 units of affordable housing in Pasadena and provided millions of dollars in fees to help build affordable housing. It’s a very effective policy, and it needs strengthening.

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