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Talks with Developer For Affordable Housing Near City Hall Get Council Approval

Published on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | 5:56 am
Under the now-approved plan, the city will work with National Community Renaissance of California to develop the affordable housing at this city-owned 280 N. Ramona St., a vacant lot that was once considered for a Water and Power Department building. (Image courtesy Google)

A plan for Pasadena to enter into exclusive negotiations with a developer to build affordable senior housing on a site across from City Hall breezed through the City Council on Monday – getting seven “yes” votes and one “absolutely yes” endorsement.

Under the now-approved plan, the city will work with National Community Renaissance of California (NCRC) to develop the affordable housing at city-owned 280 N. Ramona St., a vacant lot that was once considered for a Water and Power Department building.

The site is one of two coveted spots near City Hall that have been much-discussed in terms of development. The other site is the Julia Morgan YWCA building, at Holly Street and North Marengo Avenue.

NCRC will now have six months to negotiate with the city on plans to develop a 112-unit senior housing project in a five-level building, with 50 on-site parking spaces. Forty-nine percent of the units would be for very low-income residents.

City Manager Steve Mermell was given the discretion to increase the negotiation period by two six-month extensions. However, Mermell expressed confidence Monday that negotiations will conclude successfully well within that six-month window.

NCRC will be required to submit documentation on its development team, financial capacity and other disclosures, including environmental requirements, project concept, scope of development and schedule, among others. The negotiated development deal would then be brought back to the City Council for approval. 

The city already has a solid relationship with NCRC. According to a report from Director of Housing William K. Huang, NCR “developed and self-manage(s) Marv’s Place in Pasadena, a 20-unit permanent supportive housing project for families.’’

“NCRC and their service provider partner, Union Station Homeless Services, have helped the tenant households, who were all formerly homeless, stabilize their lives and make significant progress in the area of employment, thereby increasing household income and decreasing the level of rental subsidy needed,’’ Huang’s report adds. “The project consistently achieves a high level of maintenance, and NCRC has been responsive to tenants, neighbors and the city when questions or issues have arisen.’’

According to the report, NCRC is one of the largest nonprofit affordable housing development corporations in the United States, with a portfolio of nearly 9,000 affordable apartments in five states.’’

NCRC was chosen after analysis by city staff and the affordable-housing consultant Keyser Marston Associates (KMA) and “based on the comparative strength of this developer’s proposal,” according to Huang’s report.

The council’s move Monday came less than a month after local residents and the city’s Planning Department heard proposals from five developers to re-imagine the two sites in Centennial Plaza. The plans were presented in a “virtual community forum” Zoom meeting moderated by Planning Department Director David Reyes — a full 10 years after the city obtained the sites by eminent domain. 

Councilmember Margaret McAustin on Monday said, “I think this is an excellent use for that site’’ – but she added that placing affordable housing near City Hall also sends a strong message.

“I think this site demonstrates who we are as a city, when we say we want to put affordable housing for seniors coming out of homelessness right smack in the middle of our Civic Center, our most important civic building, and prominently place it where we are,’’ McAustin said.

“I think it’s going to wind up being just the right thing for our Civic Center.’’

McAustin also expressed confidence in NCRC, saying “Everything they ever said they were going to do on a project they did, and that means a lot to me.’’

Councilmember John J. Kennedy – who cast that “absolutely yes” vote – agreed.

“I think we can’t go wrong,’’ he said. “I think we’re making a real strong statement.’’

McAustin and Kennedy also lauded Mayor Terry Tornek, who first proposed affordable housing for the site.

“Thank you for your leadership,” Kennedy said to Tornek. “We in Pasadena are making a huge statement by continuing to house our seniors in clean, safe and affordable housing in our Civic Center.’’

Vice Mayor Tyron Hampton, meanwhile, said he was “grateful for this project.”

“I think that a lot of people will be housed from this, and I’m proud to serve on the City Council with all of you,’’ he said.

André Coleman contributed to this report.

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