Pasadena Housing Crisis Continues to “Bedevil” Council at Monday Meeting

City adopts new policies for managing ten affordable City-owned housing units and hints more may be purchased, as activists and tenants plead for more affordable units

Published : Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | 4:38 AM

Pasadena’s persistent housing issue once again took center stage at Monday’s City Council meeting, as Councilmembers heard pleas from a small platoon of residents wanting more affordable housing city-wide.

The Council also approved policies proposed by the Housing Department for managing ten City-owned rental properties which are operated as very low-income affordable rental housing for federal Section 8 tenants.

Longtime Pasadena housing activist Anthony Manousas implored the Council to once again explore using the City-owned YWCA building in Centennial Plaza as permanent supportive housing, a plan Mayor Terry Tornek supports. The issue of the future of the building could likely come before the Council next week.

“Unfortunately, the price of housing keeps going up,” said Manousas, “and more people are becoming homeless as a result.”

Continued Manousas, “We’re here to advocate for more homeless housing, and more affordable housing in our city, including the proposal that the Julia Morgan YWCA be used for that.”

Manousas pointed to the City’s “enlightened” policies and added, “We can end homelessness in our city if we do the best we can.”

Sonja Berndt also addressed the Council on the need for more affordable housing.

“Pasadena has been moving in the right direction,” said Berndt. “We’re ahead of L.A., but the City needs more affordable housing.”

Berndt pointed out that “much of the fear of affordable housing comes from misinformation.” Berndt scoffed at the common myth, for example, that “people on the street want to be on the street.”

Berndt told the Council that according to Union Station Homeless Services, “90% of people experiencing homelessness have said yes to housing, but are waiting to be matched to a voucher. We need an additional 542 housing units in Pasadena to cover the gap between what is available and what is needed.”

Berndt also pointed out that, according to Union Station, there is a 90% retention rate for those housed under the City’s “housing first” approach.

“We desperately need more affordable housing in this City, not luxury condos and hotels,” said Berndt, who also asked the council to approve using the YWCA building in the Civic Center for permanent affordable housing.

Naja Benson, a recent Azusa Pacific graduate, tearfully pleaded with the Council to help create affordable housing for college students and young people.

“Me and my friends who have grown up in the city of Pasadena have to move out of Pasadena just to live,” said Benson, “because we can’t afford the housing. My best friend, her rent went up to $2,100, then $2,500, and if you’re in middle class, you can’t afford that, especially if you’re at the low end of the spectrum.

It’s not okay. There has to be something that can be done.”

Mayor Tornek addressed the issue following the public speaker comments, telling the audience that the Council had recently increased the minimum inclusionary housing requirements for new developments.

Tornek noted, without offering details, that the City will soon see smaller apartment units in the City become available.

“These will be more affordable for college students and young people just starting out,” he said. ‘We’re trying in every way we know how to address this affordability issue.”

Tornek continued, “This is a problem that will continue to bedevil us. The good news is that Pasadena is a place where people want to live. The bad news is that it drives up the pricing, so we are doing the best we can within the limits of what makes sense to make more units affordable.”

Meanwhile, the Council approved a new management plan by the Housing Department regarding ten residential properties in Pasadena.

The apartments, on Hill Avenue, Marengo Avenue, Mar Vista, and Allen Avenue, are currently operated as affordable rental housing for very low-income persons who receive rent subsidies under the federal “Section 8″ housing program, according to a report by Housing Department project manager Jim Wong.

The properties are currently managed by Fertig and Gordon Companies, Inc., a professional property management company.

The new management policy will enable the City’s acquisition of additional units for operation as rental housing.

According to the Housing Department, “This will enable the City to increase the supply of affordable rental housing in Pasadena, and quickly and cost-effectively provide housing for difficult to house persons.”

The City’s rental assistance programs would also be strengthened by reducing reliance on a smaller number of participating Section 8 landlords, said the report.

The new policy is proposing that the rental homes would be owned by the City, which will contract with a third party professional property management company.

The rental housing inventory will carry property and liability insurance coverage, and vacancies will be marketed through www.PasadenaHousingSearch.com and the Section 8 properties listing.

The selection of tenants will be subject to the City’s local preference and priorities policy, said the report.

In addition, properties will be limited to individual condominiums, single-family residences, and multifamily rental properties not exceeding 20 units, and will consist primarily of studio and one-bedroom units;

With City Council approval, surplus cash flow from the operation of the units may be used for Department of Housing administrative costs to reduce the

Department’s dependence on the City General Fund, said the report.

When the rental housing Inventory reaches a total of 36 units, according to the report, City staff will then recommend to the Council a Request for Proposals to select a qualified affordable housing sponsor that would acquire the properties for operation as affordable rental assistance housing for a minimum period of 55 years.