Thursday, July 26, 2018

Visualizing a Future for Our Homeless Neighbors in Pasadena

(Concept C, mixed use with homeless housing and commercial development,
 is the one that Ed Tech members unanimously approved.) 

On July 17, a life-changing meeting of the Ed Tech (Economic Development and Technology) Committee of the Pasadena City Council took place  in which 46 Pasadena residents came to support homeless housing on Heritage Square South, city-owned property on the corner of Fair Oaks and Orange Grove Bld. Twenty-three community leaders and residents spoke out passionately and with well-researched talking points talks in favor and only one resident spoke against using this land for homeless housing. This was a moving testimony to how deeply Pasadenans care about their homeless neighbors.

The Planning Department presented various options for how Heritage Square could be developed, with visualizations of what each option would look like. We learned that the City would have to return $2.3 million dollars to HUD and to the state if this land purchased for affordable housing were used instead for exclusively commercial development. Since the land is assessed at approximately 5 million, selling it for exclusively commercial use made no economic sense.

Mr. Gordo, chair of the Ed Tech Committee, questioned whether "over-concentration" of affordable housing on this site is a good idea. He argued that homeless housing should be scattered throughout the city, not concentrated in one area. Some speakers said that this over-concentration idea is obsolete since Northwest Pasadena has become gentrified and experts agree that gentrifying areas need more (not less) affordable housing to counter problems such as homelessness and displacement of long-term residents caused by gentrification.  Many  speakers agreed with Mr Gordo that we need multiple sites, but argued that this should not preclude homeless housing on Heritage Square South, city-owned land purchased for that purpose. All agreed that the need to house our homeless neighbors is urgent.

The hearts and minds of these City Council members were moved to unanimously recommend "Model C"--mixed use, with homeless housing and commercial development. This is what GPHAG has been advocating for the last five months.

We were thrilled that Ed Tech came to unity on mixed use, including 69 units of homeless housing. Our prayers were answered! We saw it as a moral victory for our City as well as for our homeless neighbors. I feel this is just the beginning of a long-term campaign. In fact, one of the City Council members emailed us and said, "Congrats on tonight. I like your style...this needs to be a movement...thoughtful and persistent with a growing base."

GPHAG intends to build this kind of movement in our city to make sure we have homeless and affordable housing for all our homeless neighbors. We agree with Mr. Gordo that homeless housing needs to be located in every district, since homeless people are living throughout the city. This will require our City members to show the kind of moral and political courage that Margaret McAustin showed when she championed "Marv's Place," permanent supportive housing for homeless families. We intend to mobilize public opinion to urge  the City Council to do all it can to address this crisis.

I am pleased that the  Council is currently considering purchasing a motel and converting it to homeless housing. This seems like an excellent idea. To reduce our homeless population, we need as many housing options as possible.

We also need a vision since as Isaiah said, "without a vision the people perish." Our City has a wonderful vision spelled out in our housing element: “decent, safe and affordable housing” for “all Pasadena residents." Let's commit to cutting our homeless population by 50% in the next five years. We did it before, and we can do it again! Si, se puede, con la ayuda di Dios.

GPAHG approved sending this "thank you" letter to our City Council:

Dear Mr. Mayor and City Councilmembers,

We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to Mr. Gordo and the Ed Tech Committee for listening to the community and unanimously recommending that Heritage Square South be used for homeless housing plus some commercial development.  This was huge win for our homeless neighbors and a moral victory for our City.

We appreciate the work of the Housing Department in creating various models for how this property would look with different building configurations. It is becoming increasingly easy to visualize this project as completed, which will make our community very proud.

Donna Hess, the property manager for Heritage Square North, made an excellent suggestion for appropriate commercial development: medical offices. She has already been in touch with an optometrist and several doctors who are interested in having offices on this site when it is completed with housing and commercial use. This is an ideal location for medical offices since there will be around 140 seniors living next door. Medical offices would also benefit the neighborhood and provide good-paying jobs. Medical offices would also not require a lot of parking or create traffic problem on this already super-busy intersection.

We are pleased that Ed Tech sees the need to develop homeless and affordable housing in other sites throughout the city besides NW Pasadena (though we feel that affordable housing is desperately needed in NW Pasadena due to gentrification). We strongly support the idea of a comprehensive plan for affordable housing and also a Housing Commission--an idea that our Housing Director no longer opposes. Given the urgency of the housing crisis in our city, with rents soaring, homelessness increasing, and our teachers and city staff unable to live where they work, we need a Housing Commission to make sure that our limited funds are used prudently and creatively to fulfill our City’’s vision for “decent, safe and affordable housing” for “all Pasadena residents”:

“All Pasadena residents have an equal right to live in decent, safe and affordable housing in a suitable living environment for the long-term well-being and stability of themselves, their families, their neighborhoods, and their community. The housing vision for Pasadena is to maintain a socially and economically diverse community of homeowners and renters who are afforded this right” (Housing Element, p. 1).

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