Council Passes Ordinance Which Fast Tracks Converting Hotels and Motels into Housing for the Homeless

New law would allow local hotels and motels to be more easily converted to permanent supportive housing

Published : Tuesday, October 2, 2018 | 4:43 AM

Other communities across the country have supported motel and hotel conversions into housing. Two years ago in Grantville, near San Diego, the Affirmed Housing company converted a Motel 6 from a 102-room motel to a center for homeless veterans (plans shown above).

With one Councilmember calling the plan “an answer we can give to people” to fight the City’s homeless problem, the Pasadena City Council Monday amended two local zoning ordinances to make substantially easier the conversion of local hotels and motels into permanent housing.

The new citywide ordinance would supercede any local specific zoning plans.

City-wide, the new ordinance could potentially affect 17 local hotels or motels, which contain a total of 782 rooms. The current homeless count lists 677 persons as homeless in Pasadena.

The ordinance passed 5-1, with Councilmember Gene Masuda voting against it. Masuda expressed concerns that much of the new family-oriented permanent housing resulting from the zoning amendment would occur in his district.

Associate Planner Andre Shahakian said in a presentation delivered to the Council on Monday that the amended zoning ordinances—17.50.075 and 17.61.055—would allow for a more rapid conversion of existing hotels and motels to affordable housing.

As Housing Director Bill Huang told the Council, permanent supportive housing differs from affordable or transitional housing in that it is most often developed for homeless families, and is designed to be a long-term solution. Permanent supportive housing is also commonly housing combined with services, which may include mental health and health services, drug and alcohol treatment, and education and job training.

In her discussion, Councilmember Margaret McAustin cited the recently completed “Marv’s Place” development, as an example of the possible projects.

“The previous owner had a big stack of police calls for service,” said McAustin, “while the new development has had very few.”

The “Marv’s Place” development also features a children’s play area and a computer room for homework.

Pasadena’s Planning Commission had voted on September 12 to recommend that City Council adopt the Amendment, which would allow conversions of hotels and motels with 80 or fewer rooms to affordable housing, subject to review based on various criteria and thresholds

City staff visited all three permanent supportive housing projects in Pasadena, as well as “The Tiki,” a conversion project in Huntington Park in which an existing motel and apartment building were converted to permanent supportive housing.

City staff also interviewed operators and developers of another permanent supportive housing project converted from “The Orchard,” an existing motel in Santa Ana, and reviewed hotel conversion ordinances in three other jurisdictions.

The staff report also noted that any qualifying existing hotel or motel would not increase in floor area, unit count, or height, unless necessary to comply with fire or life safety requirements.

Any projects would be approved on a discretionary case-by-case basis.

While the Planning Commission’s recommended approach would have allowed for a more expedited process and more certainty for affordable housing development, “the approach would limit public participation in the review of projects,” according to the staff reports.

Thus, the need for conversions to be reviewed on a discretionary basis, the report added.

“Discretionary review would allow the reviewing authority to evaluate each project to determine which development standards should be adjusted, to what extent they should be adjusted, and what the appropriate performance standards would be in order to achieve a quality living environment for future residents of the conversion project as well as minimize the impacts to neighboring residents and businesses,” said the report.

A number of housing advocates spoke in favor of the new ordinance, including Ryan Izell, director of Union Station Homeless Services.

Pasadena resident Jim McCarthy told the Councilmembers, “You ’re voting for one of two things. You’re either voting for derelict motels that cost the City money, or you’re voting for a place where people can rebuild their lives.”

Mayor Terry Tornek agreed, saying, “I am very supportive of this. It takes an eternity to produce affordable housing from scratch. If we take marginal projects and build from those, we can do this much faster. This is a search for solutions.”

“These can have a positive impact on the City,” said Andy Wilson, “and they need to be quality projects.”

Added Councilmember Margaret McAustin, “We are creating a means to create something.”

And then, to reassure some residents’ spoken concerns, she said, “We are not discussing a project here. We are discussing how those could be approved. This is going to take years off the six years it takes to build affordable housing. This is very exciting. This is a whole new opportunity to get people off the streets.”

As part of the meeting, the Council also approved the ordinance’s first reading, amending the ordinance to add reviewing the law after the completion of three projects.

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