City Council Approves Working With Bridge Housing on Heritage Square South Project

Firm previously completed Heritage Square North project; local activist Jasmine Richards removed from meeting

Published : Tuesday, January 29, 2019 | 5:42 AM

Before a crowded chamber packed with dozens of local affordable housing advocates, the Pasadena City Council Monday unanimously approved working towards a development agreement with Bridge Housing to complete a Heritage Square South project on City-owned property.

The site would be developed with a mixed-use component and would include approximately 60 to 75 units of permanent supportive housing for seniors on two floors, along with 10,000 to 15,000 square feet of retail space on the first floor, along with surface and subterranean parking.

The development site is a 1.5-acre block of parcels in Northwest Pasadena, bounded by Fair Oaks Avenue on the west, Painter Street on the north, Orange Grove Boulevard on the south, and Wheeler Lane on the east.

The project is estimated to have a final cost of $30 million.

According to a Housing Department staff report presented by Housing Director William Huang, Bridge Housing “successfully developed, owns and operates the Heritage Square Senior Apartments directly adjacent to the Heritage Square South site.

Pictured above is the existing Heritage Square senior housing project developed by Bridge Housing on the adjacent property directly to the north of the proposed Heritage Square South project, which has long been under consideration by city planners. Images courtesy Bridge Housing.

“Using Bridge Housing to develop the adjacent site,” Huang noted in his report, “provides a unique opportunity for unified management, including parking, shared common areas, shared maintenance and joint delivery of support services.”

The property, valued at $5 million, would remain owned by the City, but would be leased on a long-term basis to Bridge Housing, said Huang.

Bridge Housing has over 16 years of experience with mixed-use and supportive housing developments, city sources said. Since 2002, Bridge has successfully completed 11 supportive housing projects (682 total units) and 30 mixed-use projects (4,034 total units). Of those mixed-use projects, five include supportive housing components, a city report said.

The agreement was notable in that Bridge Housing was selected to develop the project “in lieu of undertaking an RFP process,” the report noted. According to the staff presentation Monday, competitive bidding is not required, based upon City Charter Section 1002 F, Professional or Unique Services.

The report also noted that the development would take approximately 35 months to begin construction — a fact that was noted with some concern by a number of Councilmembers — beginning with formation of the working group through the actual start of construction.

According to a timeline provided by the Housing Department, forming a working group, developing community outreach, negotiating with Bridge Housing and final Council approval of the agreement, would take eight months. Design review and approval would take ten months, County and State funding commitments would take another seven months, and plan check approval would take ten months.

But, said City Manager Steve Mermell, “There are certain steps we can take, and we would try very hard to move this along much more quickly.” Mermell estimated that the City could take at least of a third of the time off the timeline.

Councilmember Victor Gordo questioned the selection of Bridge Housing as the developers, asking Huang if they were the most qualified company for the development. Huang responded that all of Bridge’s projects have “leveraged big dollars for projects,” and that they have been “highly successful.”

Bridge Housing Executive Vice President Kim McKay also responded to Gordo’s concerns, saying that the company has been in business for 35 years, and works on a “fixed profit motive.”

Added McKay, “We have never not completed a project or walked away. Our track record speaks for itself.”

Vice Mayor John Kennedy praised the work of Bridge Housing, congratulating them for “always doing what they say they will do, as benefits the community.”

The State had previously designated the Heritage Square South site as a Housing Asset in 2013, to be used primarily for affordable housing, and under state law, the development of the site must commence by the end of February 2023. Otherwise, the property must be sold through the City’s surplus disposition process and the sale proceeds returned to the Housing Successor’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Asset Fund, net of the amount of federal HOME funds (which must be repaid to HUD) originally invested by the City to acquire Heritage Square South, according to the Housing Department presentation.

Huang also noted a proposed community outreach plan for Heritage Square South, based on the community outreach activities utilized for the previous Heritage Square senior project:

The City would identify and meet separately with stakeholders , including adjacent resident associations, faith-based organizations, schools, childcare centers, homeowner associations, and surrounding businesses and residents.

The City would then utilize an advisory project working group comprised of one District 3 Northwest Commissioner, one District 5 Northwest Commissioner, two representatives from businesses located in close proximity to the site, and the Housing Director. The working group would be selected by the Housing Director, and would also provide input on project design, retail tenant preferences, house rules, and security measures.

In addition, staff recommendations for the development and funding agreement, and project environmental review would be brought forward through a public approval process involving the Northwest Commission advisory, the Economic Development and Technology Committee recommendation, and City Council approval.

Fourteen community members spoke out in favor of the decision.

Reverend Connie Millsap of First United Methodist Church and the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group, praised the selection of Bridge Housing, and said, “The (homeless) problem is not growing smaller, it’s growing larger, as our biggest population of homeless are seniors, those over the age of 50.” Millsap noted that there has been a 65% increase in the number of senior homeless in the last year.

Realtor Adam Bray-Ali questioned the long-term ownership of the property as well as its long-term maintenance.

Said Bray-Ali, “If you take the $30 million figure that I have heard, and divide by 70 units, these units cost $428,000 per unit. If you add in the assessed value, of $5 million to make $35 million, that works out to about $500,000 per unit. These are not inexpensive buildings, and I would expect there to be a built-in very long-term maintenance plan coming from that budget.”

During the motion discussion, Black Lives Matter Pasadena activist Jasmine Abdulla Richards, after a warning and a reading of the municipal code from Mayor Terry Tornek, was escorted from City Council Chambers by two Pasadena Police officers. Richardson, seated in the front row, had been broadcasting live on Facebook during the meeting, but according to the Mayor, the loud broadcast was “disruptive” of the meeting.