Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rapid response team to help convince the City to build homeless housing

There are two projects being considered by the Pasadena City Council that could
Some of the young people who gathered
at Heritage Square South to pray for homeless housing
 to be built on this city-owned site
create up to 150 units of permanent supportive housing. The first is Heritage Square South, city-owned property on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove, and the second is a motel on Colorado Blvd that could be converted to homeless housing. Both of these projects are excellent, but to convince the City to make them happen, we need community support. 

If you are willing to come to the Pasadena City Council on Sept 17 or 24, when these projects may come up for a vote, please contact me at or message me via Facebook with your email address.

If you are willing, I'll make sure you get on our "rapid response team" list. To make sure you are kept informed, our monitor will check the City Council agenda on Thursday night, Sept 13 and 20, to see if either of these items is on the agenda. If either is agendized, she will send out an email by Friday urging you to come to the City Council meeting to speak out.

Meanwhile, please send out emails to individuals you know, urging them to be ready to come to the City Council for this crucial vote. If you can call or text a friend, that’s even better. People respond to individual texts or emails than to mass emails. We want to get 20-40 people at the City Council, just as we did at Ed Tech this summer. Numbers make a difference, and your presence is needed! 

You will receive an email on the Friday before City Council decides to put Heritage Square South or Motel Conversion on the agenda. Please contact us to let us know which of these talking point you’d like to speak about. Feel free to briefly share your story and speak from your heart or religious tradition about the importance of housing our homeless neighbors. Remember that you will have only 3 minutes, max.
1)    We are urging the City Council to support Model A, not Model C, at Heritage Square South.  Model C (which Ed Tech recommended) calls for some affordable housing and a lot of commercial space that requires underground parking. This sounds good but may be not economically feasible since it costs over $30,000 per parking space. Model C would probably require a feasibility study and could take years to develop since there is nothing like it in NW Pasadena. We are advocating for Model A since it definitely specifies 69 units of permanent supportive housing and surface parking for a modest amount of retail space (preferably medical offices, for which there is a need and interest). In addition to showing up on either Sept 17 or 24, it is also a good idea to individual City members to let them know that you support Model A and the other points in this letter. Write to the city clerk:,
2)    Ordinance to facilitate motel conversion to permanent supportive housing needs our support. As you may have read in the Star News, the Planning Committee and the City Council are considering an ordinance that would make it easier for the City to convert motels into permanent supportive housing. This is a very good policy, In order for this to happen, however, it is important that the city ordinance makes approval of these conversions "by right" or "ministerial," thereby avoiding a lengthy and time-consuming process involving environmental impact studies and community input that invites NYMBYism.  Pease let us know if you are willing to go to the Planning Committee meeting on Sept 12 at 6:30 pm to advocate for this policy.
Here are more detailed talking points based on a letter that we sent to the City Council a few weeks ago:

Talking Point #1: We want to commend Mr. Gordo and the Ed Tech Committee for recommending “mixed use” for Heritage Square South—affordable housing and commercial use. Ed Tech's approval of Model C is a step in the right direction, but we want to be sure that "housing" means "permanent supportive housing" (PSH) and not market rate housing. Market rate housing would require that the City forfeit $2.3 million to HUD and the state, and lose a golden opportunity to build PSH on a site ideal for housing homeless seniors. There is county, state and federal funding for PSH, not so much for affordable housing.  Your constituents have made it very clear that we want permanent supportive housing on this site. 

Talking Point #2: Many of us have practical concerns about Model C. It calls for 15-20 K of retail space with underground parking. Is this realistic? The cost of underground parking is approximately $30,000 or more per car. This would add considerable cost to retail rental. Is there a market for upscale retail development on this corner? The site of Blaze Pizza was vacant for 4 years. Rents on a site with underground parking would be much higher than one with surface parking.  There would need to be a feasibility study to determine if Model C is economically viable. That would delay development of homeless housing that we urgently need now. 

Talking Point #3: We feel that Model A is more realistic. It calls for 69 units of affordable housing and 15-30 spaces for surface parking and a modest amount of commercial development. If we house 69 homeless seniors and have medical offices on the first floor, that number of parking spaces would probably suffice. We could move forward with Model A without a lengthy and time-consuming feasibility study. 

Talking Point #4: It is important for the city to come up with a realistic plan expeditiously so this project doesn't drag on for years, as has happened in the past. Permanent supportive housing is fundable now and we can access millions in non-city funds that would provide an immediate economic boost to our area since affordable housing requires that 20% of those hired are local, 20% are local contracts and 20% local materials. The number of homeless seniors is increasing at an alarming rate so we need this housing as soon as possible. The latest figures for San Gabriel Valley show that the number of homeless seniors 62 years old and older has gone up 116% in the past year. Pasadena's homeless senior rate has gone up 58% in the last three years. Housing homeless seniors is a crisis that needs to be addressed now. That's why we recommend that the City Council approve Model A. 

Talking Point #5:  As you know, there is widespread community support for permanent supportive housing at Heritage Square South. Over forty people showed up at the Ed Tech meeting this summer, and 23 spoke out in favor of homeless housing at Heritage Square SouthDuring a community meeting in March, 80% of the community supported using this site for affordable housing and 80% opposed using this site only for commercial development. See Kennedy’s survey results:  Religious leaders and churches have signed over 400 letters in support of homeless housing for seniors, and two prayers vigil on the property attracted 20 and 60 people, many from the nearby neighborhood. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, which comprises most of the African American churches in this area, supports using Heritage Square South for homeless housing.   We have gone door to door surveying businesses and neighbors and most were willing to sign petitions of support, which were sent to the City Council. 
Talking Point #6: Supportive housing for seniors is the best option for this site because it is located on a busy commercial intersection, which is not ideal for families. Furthermore, families need more parking than do seniors and that would reduce the number of individuals who could be served, and also limit mixed use commercial development (restaurants require lots of parking). This site is better suited for seniors because it is close to already existing senior housing, a CVS, grocery stores and restaurants, and medical facilities (easily accessible by bus). Supportive housing for homeless seniors is fundable because of Measure H and other sources. Finally, the need is urgent, with the number of homeless seniors (those over 50 years of age) increasing 65% in three years, from 153 in 2016 to 253 in 2018. (Of these, 174 are unsheltered.)
Talking Point #7: The North and South Heritage Square property was originally purchased in different parcels over a period of time by the City with HUD, inclusionary, Redevelopment, and other funding for affordable housing, starting in 2004. For political reasons, it was bifurcated in 2011 with the understanding that Heritage Square North would be used for affordable senior housing, and the southern part primarily for commercial use. When the state ended Redevelopment, however, the City changed its tune. The state wanted the City to sell the property and give them the proceeds, but the City argued that the property was an affordable housing asset and would be used for affordable housing. The state allowed the City to keep the property for this purpose. The City’s intention for this property has shifted over time, but it is currently designated for affordable housing. If it is sold for commercial use, the City must use the proceeds for affordable housing and will forfeit over a million dollars in HUD funding.
Talking Point #8: South Heritage Square will help reduce the growing homeless population in our city because we can give preference to Pasadena residents and to homeless seniors, of which there are 174 living on the streets of our city. It is likely that the vast majority of those housed will be homeless Pasadena seniors, many of whom will likely be from District 3. Almost all the current residents of Heritage Square North are from Northwest Pasadena. 30% are African American, 25% are Hispanic, 22% are Caucasians, and 18% are Asian.
Talking Point #9  Building homeless housing at Heritage Square South will create local jobs and revenue for our city.  The City can require local hires for the supportive housing portion of the project. For Heritage Square North, 20% were local hires, and 60% of materials used were purchased locally.  Supportive housing would provide economic benefits to the local community in ways that commercial development could not guarantee. Heritage Square left $ 6 million in the City because of its policy to provide local contracts and supplies. The beauty of Heritage Square North is not a stigma, but an asset to the community.
Talking Point # 10 The need for supportive housing for Pasadena’s homeless residents is growing rapidly. As you know, the number of unsheltered homeless residents in our City increased 33% in the past year. The number of homeless seniors has increased 65% in the past three years.  Since there is no supportive housing in the city pipeline, this number of homeless residents will undoubtedly increase over the next few years. I’m glad that the City is looking a multiple sites, including motel conversion.  Reducing our homeless population by providing housing will make our community safer and better for business.
Talking Point # 11 Housing homeless seniors is not only a moral mandate, it also makes good economic sense. Homeless seniors are likely to cost society more money in health care than younger and healthier homeless residents. Given the City’s budget crunch, it makes more economic sense to house homeless seniors in facilities with services provided by the County’s Measure H funding than to let them sicken and die on the streets, with various agencies in the City footing enormous medical bills. A Rand study showed that housing homeless residents has saved the county $1.20  for every dollar spent on housing and supportive services.

Talking Point # 12. Housing our homeless seniors could  save Pasadena a lot of moneyAccording to an Economic Roundtable study, the cost of dealing with a homeless individual in LA County is around $5038 per month, vs $605 per month when they are 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 them in supportive housing would run around $500,940, a savings of $3,670,524. This would be a huge financial benefit to our City.

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