Councilmember Margaret McAustin Leads ‘Women’s Construction Day’ at Low Income Housing Project


5:21 am | October 31, 2016

Pasadena City Councilmember Margaret McAustin and about 30 of her friends, neighbors and constituents rolled up their sleeves – every one, a woman – picked up hammers and donned hardhats Saturday to work on an affordable housing project rising up on what used to be the Desiderio U.S. Army Reserve Center under the Colorado Street Bridge.

An artist's visualization of a view of the future project when completed.

It was the first “Women Build Day” for what will become Desiderio Homes, a cluster of nine single-detached homes for lower-income families adjacent to a future 3.87-acre city park, that will be built entirely by community volunteers, including the prospective homeowners, working through the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity.

McAustin recalls she was serving on the City’s Planning Commission when Pasadena first sought approval from the U.S. government in 2006 to convert the former federal facility into an affordable housing project.

It was in 2014 that the project was approved, and last Saturday, McAusten was up a ladder and hammering away on a new home’s second story.

“With the Habitat for Humanity, we got a training and we’re working in groups,” she said.

“We’re doing framing on the second story of this house right here in the middle,” McAustin said as she gestured toward some of her friends working on one of the houses. “I was excited about this event because we will be literally building affordable homes. I said to the women at the beginning, ‘Thank you for coming to work today because we’re doing what women do all the time: we’re doing the work, and we’re actually getting the job done.’”

At least three of the families that will be living in the area were part of the working teams that started work on the site Saturday.
What makes the project unique, says McAustin, is that among many housing projects in Pasadena, the Desiderio project will be constructed in part by the actual prospective homeowners themselves with help from various community organizations.

“Right now in Pasadena, we have about 300 homes or units under construction or in development, but on none of them are we, the residents of Pasadena, actually constructing the units. It’s usually the city has a stake in it, or we’ve made a financial contribution or made some arrangements. Here, it’s literally about building community, so the homes are being built by the community for the community members,” McAustin said.

Saturday’s event was only the first phase of the construction on the site. A bigger activity, another Women Build, is planned for May 11 through 13 next year, where McAustin and the SGV Habitat expect to see more women volunteers.

“We’re thrilled because they’re going to help us reach out to other women for our planned build in May,” says Elaine Wilkerson, Board President, SGV Habitat for Humanity, who was also on site helping in the construction. “We are going to have women on site building. It will be a celebration event.”

Wilkerson thanked the prospective families who were on site helping Saturday for being active, and she hopes to see more of them helping during the next Women Build next year.

“This is a great effort on the part of SGV Habitat, but we could only succeed in partnership with the city and the many groups in the community that volunteer on site – businesses, faith groups, service groups, schools, and individuals as well.”

Shervin Dana, Director of Construction at SGV Habitat for Humanity, said of the nine single homes being built on the former U.S. Army Reserve site, five will be two-story structures, and four will be single story. Three of the families that will live in the homes are families of U.S. military veterans.

The federal government closed the site in 2010. According to the City of Pasadena’s Reuse Plan, four buildings that are currently onsite were removed, and a large impervious surface area, covering about 80 percent of the 5.1 acre site, will also be removed to accommodate the affordable housing units and the City Park that will sit just southeast of the Colorado Street Bridge.

SGV Habitat Executive Director Yates said dedicated community volunteers, like the women who launched Women Build in Pasadena, are the heart of Habitat for Humanity’s worldwide success.

“These women are powerful examples right here in Pasadena,” Yates said. “The group will not only create stable housing; their work will contribute to self-reliant families who are already forming another strong West Pasadena neighborhood. It’s a win-win for all!”

Women who want to help and take part in the next Women Build are advised to contact the SGV Habitat for Humanity, by calling the volunteer coordinator at (626) 387-6899. You may also visit and check for schedules and time assignments.
For more information about the Desiderio housing project, visit