Proposal for Homeless Housing in YWCA Building Prompts Mixed Reaction

Published : Monday, April 8, 2019 | 4:41 AM

Once again another use for the Pasadena YWCA building is on the table, this time with Mayor Terry Tornek proposing the historic building be used as housing for the homeless.

The City Council will discuss this and a wide range of other options for the Julia Morgan-designed building at its meeting on Monday.

The building stands on the east side of North Marengo Avenue, between Union and Holly Streets.

The Mayor offered few details on the specifics of what his recommendation would entail when he first advanced the idea in December.

He did say last week that he sought a use for the building the public would support and which is financially feasible.

“I believe that permanent supportive housing meets both of those critical criteria so that we can get on with it and get that building renovated,” Tornek said on April 4.

But some in the community say that while there is a need for homeless housing, the YWCA should be celebrated and renovated to proudly reflect the city’s cultural heritage.

“In terms of my own personal opinion, I’m not thrilled with the idea that the YWCA would be used as homeless housing,” said downtown Pasadena advocate Jonathon Edewards. “It’s the Civic Center, it’s City Hall. I personally think this historic building in the Civic Center is not the right choice for homeless housing.”


Read consultant’s financial analysis of the various proposals that have been made for the Pasadena YWCA building


Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Paul Little said his organization has not taken a position on whether the YWCA building should be used for homeless housing.

“The need for services and housing for homeless people in Pasadena is critical. Even though Pasadena has been doing a good job, there’s still a need,” Little said.

“We have a need to get people off the street,” Little said. “The challenge with the YWCA is it’s a massive investment. The City has spent millions on it and it will take millions more to make it usable. The building needs a lot of upgrades to meet current standards no matter how it’s used.”

At Pasadena Heritage, a highly-respected local preservation organization, Executive Director Sue Mossman reflected that she is ever hopeful appropriate use will be made of a treasured building which she wants to show off to the public.

“It’s important that the City Council consider the future of the YWCA and the Civic Center in general because it’s such a key property across from City Hall,” Mossman said. “Pasadena Heritage has been concerned about this building for virtually 42 years.”

Mossman said she is looking forward to the results of two studies commissioned by the City. One looks at the evolution of the Civic Center and what could be built to be in keeping with the City and the architecture and theme of the Civic Center. Another study will look at a range of potential uses for the YWCA, including as City offices.

“It’s been endangered in one way or another for decades,” she said. “We’re very concerned about its current state because it has been suffering from vandalism and damage. While it is incredibly designed and well-built by architect Julia Morgan, it is suffering and continues to deteriorate as the decision has been pending for years.”

Marsha Rood, former Development Administrator for the City of Pasadena, suggested that women shouldn’t be forgotten when planning uses for the building.

“I’d like to see women who need shelter on the second floor of the Y,” she said. “We want public use of a restored Julia Morgan pool there. The shelter would be similar to the original purpose of the YWCA, which was to protect women traveling alone.”

Rood pointed out that agreeing on one solitary use may not be best.

“It’s not ‘mono’ use,” she said. “You can have the restored pool and put in a restaurant facing Marengo, and also have small offices.”

She said the restaurant could help offset the cost of sheltering the women.

Tornek’s suggestion is not without support.

Advocates for the Mayor’s proposal such as the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group, Faith Partnership to End Homelessness and a trove of local clergymen and clergywomen have prepared and signed an open letter to the City Council in favor of the homeless housing concept.

The open letter said that using the building for supportive housing makes sense and that there are funding sources available at every level of government.

Such a project, they contended, would restore the facility to its original purpose as a home for those in need.

The City Council discussion is scheduled to take place in City Hall Council Chambers, 100 North Garfield Avenue, Room S249 on Monday, April 8. The public portion of the meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.



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