Published : Monday, October 22, 2018 | 4:47 AM
The head of the nonprofit developer hoping to convert the Ramada Inn along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena into permanent supportive housing for the homeless said the effort is almost certainly doomed after the project lost the support of the City amid a community backlash.
The organization National Community Renaissance, or National CORE, entered into escrow the week of Oct. 8 to buy the motel at 2156 E. Colorado Blvd., City officials announced last week.
The move came days after the Pasadena City Council voted to amend the City’s zoning code to allow for the fast-tracking of conversions of motels and hotels into low-cost housing with on-site services to curtail the homeless problem.
But the plan took a dramatic turn Wednesday, when a community meeting on the proposal drew heated public opposition.
City Manager Steve Mermell has since said that the city is no longer considering contributing $4 million in redevelopment funds to the project.
CORE Executive Director and CEO Steve PonTell said the Ramada conversion plan now appears to have reached the end of the road.
“I would say that it’s very unlikely that this particular project will move forward,” he said. “But we’re committed to work with the community, work with the City and try and come up with viable options,” he said.
“I think everybody agrees, number one, [Pasadena has] a homeless issue that needs be resolved. And number two, it’s better to get people off the streets into a structured living environment as opposed to having them continue to exist on the streets,” he said.
PonTell said the project was rushed in order to meet a deadline to apply for County financing.
“Normally, if we’re doing a project in a community, we spend quite a bit of time in the community meeting with people, talking to people to make sure that information is appropriately distributed,” he said. “ We didn’t have that time, and so you never want to walk into a meeting cold because it’s very difficult to have a conversation with 200 people.”
He added that there was also some misinformation being spread around at the meeting, including a letter containing false information on letterhead faked to look like a City Councilmember’s.
“Unfortunately, people resort to certain tactics, PonTell said.
Despite the setback, he said CORE continues looking for other possible sites for permanent supportive housing.
“But there’s nothing currently pending or under consideration. We’re going to defer a little bit to the community engagement process that the city wants to do,” PonTell said. “We’re committed to being good partners and helping the community address the critical need of housing the current homeless population.”
Councilwoman Margaret McAustin said it was her letterhead that was hijacked.
“ I had sent out a letter about the meeting to my constituents and someone took a copy of that letter and altered it, doctored it, and put false statements in there, I think to stir up anger and opposition to the project, she said. “So we kind of started in the negatives.”
“ So we had a long way to go to gain support for this project. What that says to me is then we have more work to do and we will do the work, because I personally am not going to give up on trying to find solutions to the problem.”
It became clear at last Wednesday’s meeting that a much larger dialogue is needed, McAustin said.
Some residents said the motel was too close to a school. Others worried about property values. Some were angry that the project had been put together so quickly.
“So I’m hoping after the first of the year we can have a citywide meeting and discussion about what we think are the needs and bounds of projects and what would be acceptable to people because we have to address the problem,” McAustin said.
The homeless problem isn’t going way, she said. In fact, it’s growing.
“There were a lot of angry people there and that’s understandable,” McAustin said. “They’re concerned about their children. They’re concerned about their lives and people expressed concerns about their property values declining because of this project. So clearly, the city needs to do more work in educating people about the types of solutions we do have and what we can do to address the problem of homelessness in our community.”
She added that she looks forward to that discussion.
Union Station Homeless Services CEO Anne Miskey said she would have liked to see the community meeting be more productive.
“I think the anger that was there just took over the meeting, and the concerns raised at the meeting about things like crime or violence really were completely unfounded and came from a lack of understanding and a fearfulness about what homelessness is, about mental illness and poverty,” she said.
Permanent supportive housing helps reduce some of the very issues people are concerned about, Miskey said.
“Supportive housing, we know, make communities healthier and safer. It’s been proven in this community and across the country to be an incredibly positive solution,” she said.
Local programs have had a 95 percent success rate at reintegrating homeless people with the community.
“So it’s sad to see the reaction of people who on the one hand kept saying we have compassion and we care about the homeless, but then they were vehemently opposed to anything happening in their neighborhood,” Miskey added.
City officials listened to what members of the public had to say, Housing and Career Services Department Director Bill Huang said.
“I think the community was heard and people’s concerns about crime and property values… It’s a reasonable reaction, a normal reaction,” he said.
Pasadena’s homeless rate grew by 18 percent this year, according to the most recent data.
“Our last homeless count showed 677 homeless individuals persons here in Pasadena,” Huang said. The vast majority are unsheltered.
Permanent supportive housing is far more than just a homeless shelter, he said.
“You have to provide services to address the root causes for why they were homeless. For instance, if they had a chronic physical illness that prevented them from having a job… you have to make sure that they are provided with proper healthcare, otherwise you will not succeed and they will not be able to stay housed,” Huang said. “Same thing if it’s a substance abuse issue or a mental health issue or what have you. Whatever the root cause issue is, there needs to be services combined with the affordable housing and we call that permanent supportive housing. So that’s the way that you permanently end somebody’s homelessness.”
The work ahead lies in outreach, Miskey said.