Vigil at Fuller Seminary Campus Links Dr. King’s Ministry to Low-Cost Housing

A young boy takes part in the Martin Luther King Jr. prayer vigil for affordable housing.Jill Shook, right, leads a prayer for people who have difficulties paying high rent in Pasadena.People bow their heads as they take part in a prayer for affordable housing.People hold signs in protest during a prayer vigil for affordable housing.Pastor Anthony McFarland from the Abundant Harvest Church in Pasadena gives Jill Shook a hug during a prayer vigil for affordable housing.Pastor Anthony McFarland from the Abundant Harvest Church in Pasadena leads a prayer in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. day celebration.People bow their heads as they take part in a prayer for affordable housingPeople bow their heads as they take part in a prayer for affordable housing.Jerred McDaniel leads the benediction.

By STEPHEN SICILIANO, Managing Editor | Photography by JAMES CARBONE

5:58 am | January 22, 2019

[Updated]  Affordable housing advocates held a vigil in front of a Pasadena apartment building owned by Fuller Theological Seminary on the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday to make a point about the sell-off of local housing by the departing school.

Last May, the school said that it was leaving Pasadena, after a 70-year stay, for Pomona.

The Fuller board of trustees was meeting in Palm Springs, and the activists thought that, with important decisions being made, a simultaneous vigil was in order, according to Jill Shook, chairwoman, Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group.

The activists gathered at Chang Commons Apartments at 261 North Madison Avenue. In a flyer, they pointed to Dr. King’s belief that “God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous, inordinate wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty.”

“This is not a symbolic choice of location,” said Shook. “Fuller has chosen to leave and I think everybody in this building is aware that eventually they will be evicted.”

Mercy Young, program coordinator for Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group, said in a Jan. 21 interview, “With this vigil we’re integrating housing justice and the legacy of Dr. King, situating the moment with Fuller’s decision to sell the Chang Commons apartments.”

The activists contend that 169-units in apartment buildings constructed along North Madison Avenue were approved by the City of Pasadena with Fuller’s promise that the units would remain affordable housing in perpetuity.

Britt Vaughn, communications manager, Fuller Theological Seminary, said that the school has always been committed to providing lower-cost housing options and that was the very reason for which Chang Commons was built.

But he said “the inclusionary housing agreement with the City of Pasadena ceases upon sale of the property, but we will always work with our students on lower cost housing options – one of the benefits of relocating to affordable Pomona.”

The City of Pasadena appears to view the matter differently.

City Manager Steve Mermell said Monday in an email that “It’s the city’s position that the units at Chang Commons are required to be affordable. We have put that in writing to Fuller.”

Young was a resident living in Fuller’s low-cost Koinonia Apartments at the corner of Los Robles Avenue and Walnut Street when, about three years ago, it was sold.

She said Fuller exploited “loopholes” in the inclusionary agreement and was able to avoid selling the property without low-cost housing requirements.

“Everyone that lived there was put out,” she explained. “Roughly a hundred of us were living in there. So the problem was, there was hardly any affordable housing in the area.”

The seminary, she said, provided the renters with $500 as a relocation fee.

“It was helpful,” said Young, “but if you can’t find a place to live it really doesn’t matter.”

Fuller president Mark Labberton announced the institution’s plan to move, citing the cost-savings associated with a Pomona-based location. The entirety of the existing campus, he said, was to be put on the sales block, including 248 apartments the school maintains for students.

In September, Pasadenans Organizing for Progress wrote Pasadena city officials urging that the sell-off of Fuller properties and its subsequent development be governed by a community benefits agreements to make sure local interests and concerns are addressed.

That has not happened, at least to date.

The existing campus was founded by evangelist Charles E. Fuller, host of the radio broadcast “Old Fashioned Revival Hour.” It opened in 1947 with a student body of 39 students. Today that figure hovers around the 400 mark.

Young said the activists’ real battle is with gentrification.

“We’re going at this issue from a faith-based perspective because Fuller represents Christian leadership,” Young explained. “They really teach how to model Christian leadership wherever you are and this is an opportunity for they themselves, as an institution, to do that as well.”