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Economic Development and Technology Committee Holds Discussion on Affordable Housing Priority Guidelines

Modifications could help local residents displaced by gentrification

Published on Wednesday, November 18, 2020 | 8:47 am

Local residents say they support changes to the city’s Local Preference and Priority System Guidelines for affordable housing programs.

The city was due to discuss changes to the guidelines to account for gentrification, according to a city staff report contained in Tuesday’s agenda for the City Council’s Economic Development and Technology (EDTech) Committee, which was scheduled to discuss the guidelines on Tuesday but held the item for another meeting.

“I am glad that the housing department is examining ways to acknowledge what many of us have been stating for years: gentrification pushes people out of our area,” said Allison Henry, a local housing advocate. “As a long-time resident myself, I am happy to see recognition of long-term tenancy in being considered for housing.”

The local guidelines were adopted by the City Council in 2006 to determine the order in which eligible applicants receive priority to rent or purchase available affordable housing units, including units developed with City subsidies and units created under the lnclusionary Housing Ordinance.

Under the current guidelines, eligible applicants who live and work in the city currently receive the highest priority, followed by applicants who live in the city, those who work in the city, and those who were involuntarily displaced from Pasadena by government action, improper termination of tenancy, domestic violence, participation in the Witness Protection program, hate crimes, inaccessibility issues or substandard housing, and homelessness.

But the guidelines fail to take into account the ever-increasing costs of housing in the state and displacement caused by gentrification.

On Monday, affordable housing advocate Jill Shook mentioned the need for changes to the guidelines in comments to the City Council regarding a local development that could be built near Allen Avenue and Walnut Street.

“Black and Latinx households with the greatest rates of displacement from Pasadena must have a fair chance to stay in Pasadena, and can with the right to return if you decide to bump up the local preference policy to put those displaced as a higher priority,” Shook said. 

According to a city staff report, there has recently been a recognition among policymakers, stakeholders, and housing advocates that existing local preference policies, while perhaps successful in achieving their stated purposes, have not addressed the impacts of housing displacement created by high housing costs and gentrification.

“In response, cities around the nation, including Portland, New York, Oakland, and San Francisco, have revised their policies in order to address such impacts,” the report states. “City housing staff have also evaluated Pasadena’s existing Local Preference Guidelines from this perspective and developed proposed modifications to the Local Preference Guidelines intended to factor in displacement and potential displacement.”

Gentrification and the high cost of housing have negatively impacted Pasadena schools. Some families have been forced to leave the district and move east where housing is more affordable. The declining enrollment has forced several schools to close and contributed to massive budget shortfalls

“It makes a lot of sense to open up affordable housing opportunities to those who left Pasadena due to rising housing costs,” said Juliana Serrano. “I know several people who would love to come back to Pasadena. It makes me wonder if doing so would welcome back families with children and therefore increase PUSD enrollment over time which is so desperately needed.” 

City modifications would include the creation of a 20 percent set-aside of units for former residents of Pasadena. This modification is meant to provide households who were unable to remain in Pasadena, whether due to rising housing costs or gentrification, with the opportunity to return to the city.

“This set-aside would apply to developments with five or more affordable housing units,” according to the staff report. “Under the set-aside, up to 20 percent of the units would be available to households who can demonstrate that they had maintained a primary residence in Pasadena sometime in the 10 years prior to their application for available housing. Within this set-aside, households will receive priority based on length of tenure in Pasadena. This means, for example, that a household who had lived in Pasadena for five years prior to application would receive priority over a household who had lived in Pasadena for eight months during the same time period.”

After that modification, there is an additional set-aside of up to 20 percent which gives preference to residents of deed-restricted affordable housing units in Pasadena who are currently considered over-housed (e.g., a single-person household residing in a three-bedroom unit). 

The “over-housed set aside” is intended to address inefficiencies in the match between household size and unit size which occur over time as dependents in larger households move out and will allow such households the opportunity to move to smaller units and pay a lower rent while freeing up larger units for larger income-eligible households.

According to the staff report, “the proposed action is consistent with the city’s General Plan-Housing Element and the Five-Year Consolidated Plan. It also supports and promotes the quality of life and the local economy — a goal of the City Council’s Strategic Plan. 

“The reality is that need far outpaces availability, and the wait time for some is years,” Henry said. “I hope that this consideration actually begins a conversation about long-term housing for all and using any and all local tools  including a greater percentage of affordable units, rent control, a vacancy tax, and a rental housing registry as acknowledged by the suggested new guidelines.”

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