Habitat's Desiderio Project Set to Open, Nine Fortunate Families to Move In During June

Project is welcomed into neighborhood by many, as some worry about its proximity to Colorado Street Bridge and construction of a public restroom

Published : Wednesday, May 2, 2018 | 5:52 AM

Following 13 years of hearings, meetings, hope, hard work and some controversy, the new Habitat for Humanity Desiderio Project, sitting on the eastern floor of the Arroyo immediately south of the Colorado Street Bridge, will hold its official grand opening on Saturday, June 9.

The nine new affordable homes are a collaborative project involving the City of Pasadena, the United States Army, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Selected families purchased their houses through no-profit, no-interest loans and each family invested 500 hours of sweat equity towards the purchase price of their new homes. Three of the nine affordable bungalow courtyard homes were reserved for veterans.

The project occupies the former Desiderio Army Reserve Center declared surplus by the United States Army and recommended for closure in 2005. After a lengthy public hearings process, the City decided to convert the property into a new neighborhood park and affordable housing.

“When a family purchases a home and becomes a homeowner, the children tend to be healthier because these homes are built with high quality and have good indoor air quality and the children tend to do better in school because their home life is more stable,” said Mark Van Lue, Executive Director of the San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity.

“They typically have a room where they can be in a quiet room, if they need to do homework,” Van Lue continued, “and they can have their friends over and have sleepovers and things like that, which adds to the quality in their life. So, all of those things come into play through homeownership. That’s why we’re such advocates in this.”

The property includes a new $3 million public city park, called Desiderio Park.

Certain aspects of the project have attracted concern from local residents.

Foremost among those concerns is the very location of the new homes, almost underneath the Colorado Street Bridge, which saw an increased number of suicide leaps landing in the project’s immediate area last Spring before a City contractor installed temporary chain link fencing at points along the bridge to deter jumpers.

The suicides distressed City officials, suicide experts, and local residents, some of whom witnessed jumps from the bridge or their aftermath.

“I have had some land in my front yard,” said concerned resident Jeff Michael at a community meeting earlier this year.

“All of the families have young children,” Van Lue said, of the new residents of the project. “I would hate to have it be that the young children growing up there [see] that as an example of how you solve your problems.”

On April 23, Pasadena’s City Council approved a Colorado Street Bridge Task Force recommendation to construct end-to-end “vertical barriers” along the Bridge to deter suicide attempts.

Van Lue says that Habitat joined in efforts to address the problem.

“We started a suicide prevention task force that included representatives from the city, as well as families who are going to be living there, and we were delighted to have Claire Bogaard and Sue Mossman from Pasadena Heritage joining that effort,” he said.

In addition to the concerns about the bridge, residents have fretted about a proposed restroom in the new Desiderio park, close to a child care center.

“I think what is going to really harm our property values is having a [public] bathroom within 500 feet of homes, including our homes,” said nearby resident Marcelline Solway.

“The Habitat is a beautiful project,” Solway continued, “and wonderful people are living there. We have been supporting that since day one,” but said, “We were told from the very beginning there was no public bathroom. And that was presented to everyone at [a] meeting, and now they changed it.”

As Habitat for Humanity’s Van Lue explained, “In the beginning, the park design did not include a restroom facility. Many of [the residents] are definitely are not in favor of that.”

“Many of our future residents in the project are kind of taking a wait and see attitude,” Van Lue said. “I know that they’re involved. They’re going to the meetings and they want to have a voice in what ultimately happens.”

The City’s Design Committee recently held a public meeting to discuss the proposed restroom’s design, and send the concept back to City staff for changes. The original project was approved without a restroom.

“There is no funding in the budget for a restroom,” said Councilman Steve Madison at a Town Hall meeting held last week. “My fingers are crossed that there won’t be.”

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