City Commission Considers Zoning Amendment to Speed Conversions of Motels, Hotels into Homeless Housing

Published : Wednesday, September 12, 2018 | 2:32 AM

[Update]  Pasadena’s Planning Commission is set to vote Wednesday on a framework to amend the City’s zoning ordinances in order to streamline the process of converting hotels and motels into affordable, permanent, supportive housing for the homeless.

If passed by the Commission, City staff will draft the framework into an ordinance, which would then go to the City Council for approval.

A primary advantage of converting motels and hotels into low-cost housing is speed, Pasadena Director of Housing Bill Huang said.

The City has identified hotels which are eligible for conversion. Map by City of Pasadena

“One of the issues to consider is the demand, the need for affordable housing, particularly permanent supportive housing, and the amount of time it takes to develop a project from scratch,” he said. “The motel conversion ordinance gives us a potential avenue to shorten that time-frame.”

“The whole purpose for the ordinance overall is to find a reasonable but quick way of doing these conversions if the opportunity is presented. There’s no [current] particular opportunity or project,” Huang said. “This is in the event opportunities become available. There will be a way to do this where the motel could be converted to housing efficiently and quickly.”

Under the proposal, conversions that meet a list of criteria, such as not requiring significant exterior structure modification, could be approved administratively. Projects that don’t meet the requirements would require discretionary approval from the city.

Pasadena is already home to several permanent supportive housing projects, according to a report prepared by city staff.

They include Centennial Place on Holly Street, near City Hall, which has 142 single-room units; Euclid Villa on Euclid Avenue, with 15 one- to four-bedroom low-income apartments; and Marv’s Place on Mar Vista Avenue, with 20 units.

“It’s just another form of permanent supportive housing,” Huang said.

“These are more than just a regular apartment building because they have services that are there [already] and there’s typically more oversight and more community space and things like that,” he added. “And so you need to have an operator that is capable of really running and operating a facility like this successfully.”

Planning Commissioner Felicia Williams said she has her doubts.

For one, she said she doesn’t believe the community has been consulted well enough.

“I expressed concern at each of the Commission meetings on this item because of a lack of community outreach and input,” she said. Only four public comments on the topic have been submitted during the three prior meetings in which the item was discussed.

“I am a huge supporter of diverse housing options in our city,” Williams said. But she doesn’t think the zoning amendment is the appropriate way to go about it.

“The General Plan is the community’s vision for the city, and this ordinance makes hotel conversions to housing exempt from our General Plan and zoning (and) development code,” she said. “We are updating the city’s vision right now through our Specific Plans, so let’s do this the right way.”

Planning and Community Development Department Director David Reyes could not be reached for comment.

Union Station Homeless Services CEO Anne Miskey said the conversions are sorely needed.

“I think that motel conversion is an excellent way to go because it’s fast,” she said. “This is something that is a solution that we can start seeing results really quickly. And we look forward to partnering with the City on this. I think this is a win-win for Pasadena, for the homeless population. So it’s very exciting. We’re very much in favor of this.”

Streamlining the process from a zoning perspective would remove a major hurdle when it comes to housing the homeless, according to Miskey.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Pasadena City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave.


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