The Early Beginnings to Present (1995-2019)
AHA identified their first official advocacy initiative in 1995 when A.B. 1164, also known as the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, was passed. This bill enabled owners in rent-controlled communities to establish their own rental rates after occupancy changes. To achieve stability in housing costs, AHA began to advocate for rent control in Pasadena, without success. (In 2017 this cause was taken up by the Pasadena Tenants Union and continues to be supported by GPAHG, with much more promising prospects).
In 2000, AHA changed its name to the Pasadena Affordable Housing Group (PAHG) and was no longer officially affiliated with the AFSC. In 2006, PAHG decided to expand its work to the San Gabriel Valley and changed its name to GPAHG—Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group.
In 2017, after twenty years of successful advocacy as a grassroots organization, with no paid staff, GPAHG began to feel the need to explore becoming a nonprofit to expand its efforts. In 2018, GPAHG became incorporated under Making Housing and Community Happen, utilizing the fiscal sponsorship of Social Good.
In 2018 GPAHG’s core leadership team voted to become faith-rooted in its approach. GPAHG is not exclusive to only one faith—all are welcome and respected, including those who are not religious. GPAHG is not shy about its Quaker and Christian roots, but neither does it minimize another’s faith or motivation. GPAHG is founded on the belief in a God of justice and that with God all things are possible. GPAHG urges its members and the city to dream and imagine a community where all are adequately housed. It takes faith to believe that such housing can happen. It takes faith to believe that the hearts and minds of decision makers can be changed by the power of a loving God. GPAHG is committed to the redemption of the city, both its systems and its decision-makers.
Currently, GPAHG has an estimated 20 members. Over the years, GPAHG has been comprised of a diverse membership consisting of retired planning commissioners, retired city planners, lawyers, architects, nonprofit directors, pastors, caseworkers, former homeless individuals, and long-term advocates at the local and state levels.
Many of GPAHG’s achievements have been noted in local media such as the Pasadena Star News, Pasadena Now and the Pasadena Weekly.
In its twenty-year history, GPAHG, in collaboration with community partners has employed tools like affordable housing bus tours and candidates’ forums. Bus tours served to dispel myths about affordable housing when people could see its high quality and how it serves not only to provide sorely needed affordable housing but also to beautify communities.
Candidates forums have served to educate the city council, commissions, and Pasadena residents on policies that enable or incentivize affordable housing within the city. At candidate forums, key questions are asked, with candidates stating their positions on specific housing issues. Forums take place before elections, and in public venues, thereby holding elected officials accountable to what they have stated. These are excellent organizing tools, but most of GPAHG's work is done in small groups: researching issues, meeting one-on-one with stakeholders and elected officials, building consensus around a position on an issue, then gathering up crowds among a broad cross section of the city and especially the support of congregations, weigh in, strengthen and support the findings, and share talking points at public meetings. Below you will read of key campaigns, wins and losses that that have shaped what GPAHG is today.
During the 1980s and 1990s, housing costs and eviction rates soared across the country because of the Savings and Loans crisis. Many grassroots nonprofits and advocacy groups were formed at this time to address the growing need for affordable housing throughout the US. In Pasadena, Affordable Housing Action (AHA), an advocacy group with Quaker roots, was birthed during this period. This was the forerunner of GPAHG.
AHA had their first meeting at the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) office which was then located on North Fair Oaks Avenue. AHA met monthly to address the need for affordable housing in Pasadena. AHA was committed to the production and preservation of quality, appropriate, affordable housing with priority on the most vulnerable populations of low to no-income residents, and the dispersal of this housing throughout the city of Pasadena.
Inclusionary: A Powerful Win for Affordable Housing! (2001-2010)
In 2001, PAHG was part of a citywide advocacy effort to pass an Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, which requires developers to set aside a certain percentage of their units as affordable when they build more than 10 units. As of March 2019, this ordinance has resulted in the creation of 577 affordable housing units at no cost to the city by requiring that 15% of all new housing include affordable units. (Because the ordinance required only a 6% set aside during its first year, many developers in Old Pasadena quickly pulled permits to take advantage of this.)
In 2010, reading the local Star News, GPAHG learned of an 800-unit proposal, the largest ever in Pasadena. GPAHG called Sares Regis, the developer, who was eager to meet to gain community support, and a meeting was set. At this meeting GPAHG asked if they were planning to pay the in-lieu fee or include 15% of units as affordable. When they responded that they would supply only moderate-income units on site, GPAHG stated that it supported only lower income units. In a follow up meeting two weeks later, Sares Regis decided to provide all very-low income units and go above the 15% required to 20%, resulting in 96 very-low-income units spread throughout their luxury development.
This TOD-Transit Oriented Development is smart growth at is its finest, undoing exclusionary practices, creating affordable housing indistinguishable from the luxury units, all within a few minutes’ walk to job-rich Old Pasadena, and a few more minutes’ walk to the metro station.
Many residents fear or oppose more traffic, often equating it with higher density housing. Surprisingly, higher density and affordable housing often lower traffic if the units are near jobs and transportation alternatives. This was the case with Westgate. Their traffic study was questioned, causing the city to make them redo it, with the same positive results. With proximity to the metro, offering shared electric vehicles, zip cars and other traffic mitigation efforts, traffic at and around Westgate has been greatly reduced. Sares Regis has won green builder awards with their strong commitment to green building: http://www.sares-regis.com/SRG-Green-Overview
Not all developers are as generous as Sares Regis, opting to include all very-low income units. Holly Street Apartments is the only other development with 20% of the units set aside as affordable. To prevent the set aside units from being 100% moderate, GPAHG helped to change the Inclusionary Ordinance so that only 5% could be moderate and the rest either low or very low-income units. GPAHG also played a role in helping the city to increase the in-lieu fee option, so that is would cover a higher percent of the affordability gap. To date, this fee is still too low. In 2016, the housing department conducted a nexus study demonstrating that the fee should be increased by up to four times. In 2019, the City Council will consider increasing this fee. You will read more about inclusionary below.
Granny Flat and Down-Zoning Setbacks! (2003)
In 2003 PAHG experienced a major setback in response to AB 1866.This state law made it possible once again to build granny flats (Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs) behind homes throughout the state, but unfortunately it also allowed cities to create their own ordinances. Cities across the state began to pass restrictive ADU ordinances to prevent AB 1866 from being implemented. Pasadena passed one of the more restrictive policies. GPAHG felt it was prepared with 21 pastors standing strong until after midnight, with powerful stories, solid talking points and reasonable requests of allowing detached granny flats on 7,500 sf lots. But after midnight the City Council found a way to do the opposite, passing a highly restrictive ADU ordinance that required a minimum lot size of 15,000 sq. ft. Additionally, the city added the unusual requirement of a two-car garage for one of these small units. Furthermore, these units could not to be visible from the street, and no ADUs could be allowed more than 500 feet from any other ADU. As a result of so many restrictions, only ADU was built in 15 years! Nevertheless, GAHG remained committed to granny flats. Fifteen years later, thanks to a new state law, new city ordinances were passed to enable granny flats to be built in Pasadena, as will be explained later.
In addition to trying to restrict ADUs, the City Council began down zoning major sections of the city, posing further challenges to the creation of affordable housing. PAHG joined an effort to prevent downzoning on Los Robles between Orange Grove and Washington, whereby the zoning capacity would be cut in half, from 32 units per acre to 16 units per acre. This is not good news for affordable housing. Such low densities greatly limit housing development capacity, typically preventing affordable units. Even with 300 strong at the City Council in support of retaining the existing 32 units per acre, the neighborhood associations prevailed. But GPAHG did not give up and is still committed to higher density and smart growth.
Turning a Military Base to Affordable Housing (2005-2006)
In 2005, the Desiderio Army Reserve Center under the famous Colorado Street bridge was declared surplus by the United States Army. GPAHG researched and found that housing for homeless veterans was supposed to be a priority use when bases close. GPAHG showed up at each public meeting to remind the City Council of this priority. They also reminded the community that the development capacity on this site of 70 units could go a long way in meeting a very real need to address homelessness. After the City went through many lengthy public hearings, the Department of Defense (DOD) and HUD-(Housing and Urban Development) initially rejected the city’s proposed use because it lacked any homeless housing. Reworking the proposal, the city was able to use units for homeless housing at Centennial Place to satisfy federal requirements.
Habitat proposed building affordable housing on the Desiderio site. GPAHG chose to support Habitat’s proposal with the strong support of many churches and ECPAC—the Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Churches. (ECPAC is now Friends in Deed). Today this site has nine beautiful Habitat homes, with three for veterans, and a neighborhood park in the works. See here.
In 2006, PAHG decided to expand its work to the San Gabriel Valley and changed its name to GPAHG—Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group.
Advocating for the Displaced Disabled, Elderly (2007)
In 2007, GPAHG became aware that a developer named Singoli purchased Pasadena Manor and was evicting 157 elderly and disabled residents to make way for the Constance Hotel. With the support of Unite Here, and the sad yet powerful stories of displaced residents, GPAHG made this front-page news and repeatedly filled the council chambers with people demanding that if Singoli were to receive $11 million in federal revitalization funds, they should pay relocation costs for the displaced residents and the city’s living wage for hotels workers. Repeated city council meetings took place with no decision to honor any of GPAHG’s requests, and the deadline passed to submit the proposal for federal funds. GPAHG successfully prevented federal dollars from being used to make a luxury hotel that was displacing long term elderly residents, but more importantly, GPAHG worked with a lawyer that enabled many of the elderly residents eventually received relocation costs. See here.
Housing Department Formed, Inclusionary Housing Multiplied (2008-2019)
In 2008, GPAHG successfully advocated for Pasadena to create a Housing Department separate from the Planning Department. This has enabled a much higher production of affordable housing. For example, not only have 577 units been created through the inclusionary housing ordinance, but over 690 additional units have been created or preserved through leveraging fees that developers have an option to pay in lieu of including affordable units.
In 2018 the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance was up for review. A GPAHG subcommittee spent a year studying ways to strengthen this complex ordinance. They decided to advocate for retaining the in-lieu fee option (at a much higher rate) since it is the only locally generated funding source for affordable housing. If affordable housing developers are approved for a project in Pasadena, they often apply for and receive in lieu funding from the city. They can then leverage this seed money anywhere up to 3-8 times to build out the funding needed to complete the project.
GPAHG is also recommending that Pasadena consider following the example of Chicago: there, if a developer wishes to pay a fee in lieu of building affordable units, they can apply the fee option to only half of the units set aside to be affordable, while the other half must be included on site. GPAHGs inclusionary team has proposed this option and other key points that would strengthen this ordinance. Additionally, they are recommending that the 15% set aside is doubled in TOD sites, ¼ mile around Transit Oriented Developments. Santa Monica and Hawaii have 30% set asides for their larger developments and Metro requires 35% of their land be for affordable housing. There are many other recommendations that GPAHG’s Inclusionary team has been proposing to the Planning Commission, the Housing and Planning Departments and the City Council. See here.
Once the city has conducted a feasibility study, it likely be voted on in mid-2019.
The “Greater Pasadena” part of GPAHG is finally coming to pass with several Monrovia residents joining the Inclusionary team to learn how to move forward in passing an inclusionary ordinance for their city.
GPAHG Helps Pasadena Craft an Award-Winning Housing Element (2013-2021)
Over the years GPAHG has also played a pivotal role in shaping Pasadena’s Housing Elements (HE). This is a comprehensive document which plans for enough housing for all income levels and must be submitted to the state every 4-8 years. The key word is plan. With the severe shortage of affordable housing, the state is adding more teeth to foster more accountability so that cities will implement these plans.
Only one public body in the city discussed affordable housing: the Economic Development and Technology Subcommittee of the City Council. GPAHG’s efforts to add an affordable housing commission to the city has not yet materialized, but the Planning Commission now plays the role of implementing the Housing Element. Their agenda is quite full, so the HE has not received the attention it deserves. But some added support was won by requiring the Planning Commission to devote at least two of their meetings a year to affordable housing. GPAHG also garnered support for the Housing Department to have two workshops a year on some aspect of affordable housing. Topics have included: ADUs, a debate on the pros and cons of a housing commission, and ideas for additional funding sources.
These extra city-based supports have been appreciated, but don’t go far enough. Thankfully, the state is starting to hold cities accountable for reaching their housing goals. Often cities simply say they don’t have the funding for affordable housing so it can’t be done. But groups like LA Voice with Faith in Action didn’t allow this to be a reason not to build affordable housing. In 2017 they organized their 58 member congregations to pass a quarter cent sales tax, Measure H, which provided the needed funding for permanent supportive housing, which ends homelessness. The challenge now it to get land use approvals so the funding can be accessed.
In 2014 GPAHG in partnership Public Council wrote a 21-page detailed analysis of Pasadena’s Housing Element. This included vetting every proposed site where affordable housing could be built. GPAHG visited each site and determined if affordable housing was feasible there.
GPAHG also advocated for the creation of some additional housing goals, which were included. For example, the innovative idea to “study options to change the tenant protection ordinance and for options for preserving non-deed restricted affordable housing by 2016” (p. A-32 of the 2013-2021 Housing Element). GPAHG felt that good landlords charging reasonable rents should be incentivized, perhaps with some green features in exchange for reasonable rents. While this out-of-the box idea made it into to the approved HE, it still needs to be thoroughly studied and implemented. Perhaps in 2019 this will finally take place, four years after the deadline.
GPAHG advocated for these deadlines in order to keep the city accountable to its commitment to create affordable housing. One year, at the ninth hour, GPAHG asked the HDC—the state’s Housing and Urban Development Department—to send the HE back to have deadlines added to many of the goals before it would be approved. Too many of the goals were “ongoing,” which would roll into the next HE 4-8-year cycle and not be addressed. For example, studying granny flats had been pushed into the next Housing Element cycle several times. Today, due to GPAHG’s effort, there are many more deadlines.
Many in GPAHG believe that its efforts were at least partly responsible for this HE winning a Planning Award of Merit for Focused Issue Planning by the California-Los Angeles Chapter of the American Planning Association. Additionally, this Housing Element, alongside Austin, TX, won the 2014 Larson Housing Policy Leadership Award for Best Housing Element by the Urban Land Institute’s Tewillinger Center for Housing. GPAHG continually participates at city council meetings to encourage the goals of the Housing Element are met and implemented. See here.
GPAHG Holds Fuller Seminary Accountable for Affordable Housing and
Spurs a Stronger Tenant Protection Ordinance [TPO] (2014-present)
In 2014, GPAHG was alerted to Fuller Seminary’s sale of 197 student housing units to Carmel Partners, a luxury builder. By so doing it broke their 20-year Fuller Master Plan (MP) agreement with the city, which was adopted in 2006 and stated that all housing within its MP was to be used for affordable student housing. GPAHG sought to retain this agreement in multiple ways—first, by seeking to apply AB 2222, whereby a unit in which a lower income person had lived within the past five years had to be replaced in the new development. This law only applied to developments asking for a density bonus. The AB 1818 state Density bonus law allows up to 35% more units in a development if very-low income units are included, overriding existing allowed densities. Additionally, Pasadena allows an additional 50% density bonus in the central district to encourage new development away from single family neighborhoods. Typically, these are attractive tools to incentivize developers to provide affordable units. But Carmel Partners were not interested in taking advantage of this bonus, so none of the 197 lower income units were replaced. This was a huge loss and missed opportunity since this site is ideal for higher density housing.
Upon learning that no Fuller student displaced by the sale to Carmel Partners qualified to receive relocation costs, GPAHG began to research how to strengthen Pasadena’s TPO—Tenant Protection Ordinance. They found that the TPO was protecting landlords more than tenants. GPAHG discovered a loophole that was preventing relocation costs from being paid: Only those tenants with leases qualified for relocation funds, so landlord would simply change the tenancy to month-to-month, enabling them to bypass paying for relocation cost. Finally, in 2017, after a year of one-on-one meetings with staff and City Council members, letters and reminders, the City Council unanimously approved that all tenants in good standing living in households at or below 140% of the median income would be paid a relocation allowance equal to two months fair market rents as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) for a rental unit of a similar size. After an entire apartment complex was evited due to dramatically increased rents, in 2019, the city is again updated the TPO to determine if the city will vote to provide relocation costs if rents are increased above a certain percent. GPAHG partners are working on this.
In 2019, GPAHG organized a prayer vigil on the Fuller Campus for another housing issue. On MLK Day, with close to 100 in attendance, pastors and leaders asked God to preserve Chang Commons, with 169 affordable student housing units, which are supposed to be preserved under Pasadena’s inclusionary policy. See here.
Anti-camping Ordinance Was Fought and GPAHG Won! (2016)
In 2015 there was a significant rise in laws criminalizing homeless people in California, but these laws have only worsened, not solved, the problem. UC Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic conducted an extensive study of this problem in 2015 and concluded that “criminalization harms homeless people and perpetuates poverty by restricting access to the social safety net, affordable housing, and employment opportunities.”
A member of the city council initially felt that by making it illegal for homeless individuals to be on the streets, it would help businesses and the address homelessness. After GPAHGs Anti-Camping team met to do research, crafted talking points and presented their findings to the City Council, the Council decided not to pass this pernicious ordinance. This was a big win for GPAHG, garnering respect from many key players when they heard the excellent research that we done and the caliber of stake holders who so effectively presented their points. See here.
After 15 Years, a Reasonable Granny Flats Ordinance is Approved! (2017)
With 58,000 homeless people counted in LA County in 2017 alone, and a severe housing shortage statewide, state lawmakers saw that one way to address this crisis would be to ease restrictions on granny flats, otherwise known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). GPAHG’s ADU subcommittee worked tirelessly with the state and local players, including AARP and many churches, gathering up stories of how ADUs would help families grow, college ages children have independence or the elderly affordably age in place, preventing displacement. Additionally, Chase Andre, a Fuller intern with GPAHG, was able to identify 740 legal ADUs, built prior to Pasadena’s overly restrictive 2003 ordinance. With the help of Phil Burns, a city planner on GPAHG’s team, plotted all 740 ADUs on a map of Pasadena so that statistics on crime, the number of parked cars, property values, traffic and other factors could be compared with adjacent streets that had no ADUs. Opponents were saying that ADUs would destroy single-family neighborhoods. The results showed that there was on impact in any of these areas on streets with a high number of ADUs: See here.
With such diligent research, steady persistence, the power of a cohesive team and the help of the state policy causing cities to relax their strict rules, Pasadena’s overly restrictive policies were overturned, and a more reasonable local ordinance is now in place. Today any single-family homeowner can convert their garage into an ADU, no matter their property size, or build an attached or detached ADU if their property size in 7,200 sf. Whereas only one ADU was built between 2001 and 2017, since 2017, 40 ADUs have been completed with 13 set aside with either an affordable covenant or rented to a Section 8 tenant. Thankfully, GPAHG also succeeded in preventing the $20,000 impact fee from being applied not only to ADUs for lower income folks, but also for family members. See here.
GPAHG Successfully Advocates for Homeless Housing (2018)
In 2018, GPAHG successfully advocated for the approval of 69 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless seniors at Heritage Square South after a nine month campaign that included several prayer vigils; religious leaders participating in an all night stay on the site with some of those experiencing homelessness; close to 1,000 letters sent to City Council; and packing public meetings with key community leaders and pastors sharing compelling talking points. On Dec 17th, the City Council not only approved these units, Mayor Tornek surprised everyone with his recommendation to use the vacant city-own YWCA for homeless housing. This historic landmark was designed by the famous architect Julia Morgan (who also designed the Hearst Castle). This is GPAHG’s 2019 campaign, in addition to seeking to house some of Pasadena’s 677 homeless neighbors counted in 2018, in motels converted to homeless housing. GPAHG has strongly supported the 2018 ordinance that facilitates the conversion of motels by doing community engagement in East Pasadena, where many motels are located and where there is rampant NIMBYism. See here.
GPAHG Was Not Ready for Rent Control in 1995 But It Is Today
In 1995 Pasadena was not ready for rent control but in 2017, thanks to the Pasadena Tenants Union, there was tremendous support for rent stabilization: they came close to getting it on the ballot by collecting over 10,000 signatures. (This support surpassed the 8,200 votes garnered by the Mayor, who opposes rent control.) In 2018, over 54% of Pasadenans voted for the state Prop 10 ballot measure, which would have allowed cities to have rent control if passed. PTU will try another local initiative in 2020, with support from GPAHG. You can see a list of our successes over the years, here.