New Laws Could Reduce Concentrations of Affordable Housing, Spread Low-Income Units Throughout City

Previous concentrations of affordable housing could be a thing of the past, as demographics and new laws merge; inclusionary housing developments could spread low-income units throughout the City

Published : Tuesday, November 19, 2019 | 5:57 AM

“Affordable housing is a good thing,” said Councilmember John Kennedy in a wide-ranging discussion by City Council Monday about the City’s affordable housing needs.

“We can’t build it fast enough,” Kennedy added while noting that approximately 100 new affordable housing units are expected to become available in the next year.

None of them would be traditional “housing projects.” What’s proposed doesn’t resemble low-income developments, and some could even provide home ownership opportunities.

The discussion was sparked by a report presented by Housing Department Project Manager James Wong. Much of it focused on the idea that many of the affordable housing units in Pasadena are concentrated in Districts 1, 3 and 5, in Northwest Pasadena.

Mayor Terry Tornek pointed out that because of the City’s newly expanded Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, “Market-rate housing will spread affordable housing all over the City.”

In fact, the notion and meaning of affordable housing may change over the coming years, at least one speaker said.

“Diversity is changing dramatically,” said housing advocate Jill Shook, who lives in a home on North Fair Oaks Avenue and said she has seen the neighborhood change from primarily African-American to mostly “white, with PhDs.”

“We’re displacing our neighbors, and forcing them out,” said Shook, “because we’re saying that Northwest Pasadena is one place where you can’t build off-site units. This is an area where we need all the affordable housing we can get, so that we can retain our neighbors, and not displace them.”

Under the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, developers have the option to construct “Inclusionary,” or affordable, units as part of their projects, either on-site, off-site, or pay the City an in-lieu fee.

But historically, according to the report presented by Wong, the inclusionary Housing regulations have prohibited off-site inclusionary units in Northwest Pasadena because of concerns that developers would concentrate units there.

Pasadena currently has 3, 775 affordable housing units including Section 8, Special Needs, Family and Senior units. The City is far below Regional Housing Needs Assessments (RHNA) which is an assessment process performed periodically as part of Housing Element and General Plan updates for all cities in California.

According to that assessment, said Tornek, Pasadena is “very below’ the 880 units required by RHNA, “but those numbers are about to change very dramatically,” he said.

Following the loss of the State’s redevelopment program, inclusionary housing regulations were amended to allow for off-site inclusionary units in Northwest Pasadena. In those cases, said the report, the proposed projects provide home ownership housing, and eliminate blight.

The July 2018 Summit Grove project, for example, provided 21 affordable home ownership units and eliminated a nuisance liquor store. The Lincoln Orange Grove project allowed for an abandoned gas station to be replaced with 35 home ownership affordable units.

But most of the Councilmembers who spoke on the subject mention concerns of over-concentration of affordable units in Northwest Pasadena, and the overwhelming number of affordable units still needed in the City.

But, according to the staff report, of six projects with off-site inclusionary units, only the Summit Grove project is located within a one-quarter mile radius area of over-concentration.

“Beyond the definition of ‘over concentration’ as it relates to off-site inclusionary units, the City does not have a definition of what constitutes an over-concentration of affordable housing,” said the report.

Excluding City deed-restricted affordable housing projects from the inclusionary definition of over-concentration might have a positive effect, the report added.

“It is also important to bear in mind that the perception of affordable housing over-concentration typically becomes an issue when the housing is poorly designed or not well managed or maintained, said the report, but added, “Well-designed and managed projects, such as Heritage Square Senior Apartments, Summit Grove and Marv’s Place, tend not to create a negative impact. They are usually positive contributors to the neighborhoods in which they are located.”

‘We need to look harder for city-owned properties,” for housing opportunities, said Councilmember Margaret McAustin, echoing a theme from both Councilmember Kennedy and Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton, that the City needs to do more to rapidly develop more affordable housing.

“We need to look at re-purposing buildings,” said McAustin. “If this is an open market, we need to consider it.”

Councilmember Victor Gordo called the issue of affordable housing “all about density and resources.”

“Dense affordable housing communities get fewer resources,” he said. “Sidewalks in those communities get used more, and they don’t get fixed enough. It’s an issue of fairness, not to mention fire response, cleanliness and all of that.”

Councilmember Andy Wilson suggested that the City take another look at motel conversions, which the City attempted in 2017. Wilson also added that the City needs to find more housing funding sources.

The Housing Department report also noted that addressing “the concerns about possible over-concentration in the development of additional affordable housing, the City Council could establish additional policies, however, such action may reduce the potential for developing such properties.”

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