Housing advocates and state officials disagree on the number of housing units Pasadena needs to build.
According to the 2014 Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) the city needs to build 1,332 new housing units.
The city’s housing element is one the state-mandated elements in the General Plan and must be updated every four to eight years to address the current and projected housing needs.
“There’s a lot of debate over whether the numbers are sufficient,” said Housing Director Bill Huang. “The Regional Housing Needs Assessment Numbers are the ones that are broadly used. The state allocates a certain amount of housing need to each jurisdiction through regional entities. The bottom line is certain numbers come down to each city.”
The state does not require a jurisdiction to construct the number of new housing units in its RHNA. Instead, each jurisdiction is required to plan for the new housing units by providing appropriate zoning with adequate density to accommodate the number of new units in its RHNA target.
According to Michelle White, 23,000 local low-income families need affordable housing.
“If we indeed are talking about housing everybody who needs it, we could do 10,000 units easily,” White said.”The other thing is that the people who are coming in from other parts of the region need affordable housing. That’s above and beyond the number who exist in Pasadena who are in need of the units. So we’re talking about a lot of units.”
Skyrocketing housing costs have dramatically impacted the city, even pushing families with school-aged children out of the region.
White suggested the city work with churches to convert church property to housing for the homeless. She also talked about converting lower-income motels and increasing the inclusionary housing ordinance to 25 percent.
According to housing advocate Jill Shook, the average home now in Northwest Pasadena is worth about $800,000. Shook did not provide a number when asked for the “magic number” for the city’s affordable housing stock.
“When you have so much gentrification taking place, you need more affordable housing, not less,” Shook said. “Affordable housing is the only antidote to gentrification.”
Shook said the city has already showed it can improve the situation.
“We’ve lowered the homeless count by 20 percent [in] the city last year, whereas it increased 24 percent in the other San Gabriel Valley cities, even in Kern County, there was over a 50 percent increase,” Shook said. “So there’s definitely something we’re doing right in our city. Nevertheless, we still have 542 counted as homeless last year. A large percentage of those are unsheltered, living on the street. The need is huge. My understanding is that 47 percent of our city is spending over 50 percent of our income on housing.”
According to local realtor Bill Podley, building affordable housing can have a negative impact on the housing market overall.
If property owners end up charging only half the standard rent for affordable units in their developments, “then I’m saying they have to make it up somehow — either in compromising the quality of the construction or in charging more rent on the other units. So there’s that delicate balance.”
Most experts say consumers should not spend more than 30 percent on rent. The 30 percent rule dates back to 1969 public housing regulations, which capped public housing rent at 25 percent of a tenant’s annual income, but the figure inched up to 30 percent in the 1980s. At that time, salaries and housing costs were more in line.
“There’s no magic number,” said Mayoral Candidate and current City Councilman Victor Gordo. “The first step as it relates to affordable housing is to retain existing affordable housing and continue to build permanent supportive housing and affordable housing by investing in properties that are dilapidated.
“In my district, we’ve done that with burned out apartment buildings, with liquor stores. That’s the appropriate thing to do because affordable housing can both be an improvement to a neighborhood and a contribution to the housing stock in Pasadena.”