Public Outcry Halts Conversion of Ramada Inn into Homeless Housing

Published : Friday, October 19, 2018 | 5:18 AM

[Updated] A community meeting Wednesday night about converting a Ramada Inn on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena into housing for the homeless met with such overwhelmingly negative reaction from residents that City officials said the project has been pulled from further consideration.

The officials said that although this specific project may not proceed, the City will continue to evaluate proposals to convert other similar sites into homeless housing.

Earlier this month, the City Council amended Pasadena’s zoning code in order to allow fast-tracking conversions of hotels and motels into permanent supportive housing for homeless adults and families.

Two weeks later, City officials said the first such project was already underway.

“There is a proposal that was brought to us by a nonprofit affordable housing developer to acquire the Ramada Inn and convert it,” Pasadena Housing and Career Services Department Director Bill Huang said.

Huang said the developer, National Community Renaissance, had just executed a purchase and sale agreement and the sale went into escrow last week.

The Ramada Inn is located at 2156 E. Colorado Boulevard.

At a Wednesday night community meeting to discuss the conversion, residents said the Ramada Inn is too close to a local school, numerous local small businesses, and quiet neighborhoods to make sense for a “homeless shelter.”

Others objected that the zoning amendment and the sudden announcement of the conversion shortly thereafter seemed as if City Hall had been working out of the public view to pursue a pre-planned agenda.

“Let’s be real: a deal like the Ramada had to have been months in the making,” said one woman, who asked to be identified only as SC. “All of this occurred behind closed doors.”

Still others said that the Ramada Inn was going concern, well maintained and not neglected, and providing tax revenue to the City, and consequently seemed an unlikely candidate to convert into homeless housing.

The next day, City Manager Steve Mermell confirmed the proposal had been removed from the City Council’s Monday meeting agenda for further consideration.

Councilmember Margaret McAustin said Thursday, “This project does not look like it’s going to move forward at this location, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other solutions. We just have to work harder to find them. And I’m going to do that. I am not giving up on finding solutions.”

Anne Miskey, Chief Executive Officer of Union Station Homeless said, “it was an opportunity to really talk to the local people from the neighborhood around this potential project and about the benefits of permanent supportive housing. The fact that it’s attractive and safe, affordable housing, the case management, and then it’s really a win win for the community for getting people off the streets.”

Miskey continued, “Unfortunately, it very quickly became a meeting where there was a lot of anger and fear expressed.”

Addressing resident’s concerns of homeless encampments where there is crime and aggressive pan handling Miskey said, “The fact of the matter is we already have that in the community and this (hotel conversions) is a solution to that.”

Pasadena’s homelessness has risen 28 percent in the past two years, according to the most recent official count.

Councilmember Andy Wilson seemed to react philosophically to the community meeting.

“This concept of doing a hotel conversion is brand new,” Wilson said. “New to us and new to the community. Now we have our projects, and people are trying to understand conceptually what this could be, and then more specifically, what it would mean to their own local neighborhoods. So I think it’s a lot to digest. But I think we’re all learning.”

Wilson said he supports hotel conversions and despite the meeting still looks forward to making the new ordinance amendments work.

“I think there’s a lot of fear of what this means,” he said Thursday, “and whether this is going to hurt or help their community. We’re going to thoughtfully answer those concerns and educate ourselves so that we can feel comfortable.”

The resistance to the proposed project once against pointed up the difficulties in creating solutions to the homeless problem. Pasadena is one of the more proactive cities in the state on the issue, but the homeless numbers continue to fluctuate, rising at the last count in January.

“You know, we have 677 people in Pasadena who are homeless,” said Planning Commissioner Felicia Williams. “It’s up 28 percent, whereas the rest of the county is down in homelessness. So why are we seeing these trends? What is the problem and what are the potential solutions, and that’s a homelessness meeting that the city council should have had back in May when they started looking at these projects.”

McAustin said the city as a whole needs to come to grips with homelessness and how the community wants to deal with it.

McAustin continued, “We have to find a way to engage the community in discussion, to find out what is acceptable to the community and how they think we should be addressing this problem. The homeless population, it’s not going away.”

“I’m not going to give up on trying to find solutions to the problem.”

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