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To Our Friends and Partners,
On behalf of our MHCH team, we send warm greetings! Easter is a time where hope triumphs over death and despair. We need that message of hope now more than ever. As we write this, we are “sheltering in place” until the risk of contagion passes. We have the blessing of a home, but others are not so fortunate. Some are homeless, and others at risk of losing their homes because they are unable to work to pay their rent or mortgage. Their situation can seem hopeless, yet we see this as a time of unique opportunities and renewed hope.
We have been actively participating in coalitions that have helped to pass eviction moratoriums in Pasadena, Monrovia and Whittier with the goal of keeping people in their homes. To make this happen, we've been part of a constant flurry of emails, Zoom calls, and published articles. We've also made public comments at online City Council meetings. These successful efforts give us hope and encouragement.
This is only one of many ways we are addressing today’s housing crisis. We invite you to click on the pictures below to enjoy engaging vignettes about what each of our subcommittees is up to during this time of pandemic. Their enormous dedication is humbling. Please note that the financial need for our Congregational Land Committee is especially acute .
With joy and heart-felt gratitude for your friendship and partnership,
Jill Shook and Anthony Manousos
Co-founders of MHCH
Members and chairs of our subcommittees (pictured above) worked with members of Leadership Pasadena to develop a five-year strategic plan for MHCH.
P.S. As we seek to flatten the curve by sheltering in place, we are grateful that technology like Zoom enables us to connect with people over long distances. For this reason, we invite you to our 7 pm April 28 Zoom meeting with expert panelists: “Addressing homelessness in a time of pandemic: immediate needs and longer-term solutions.”
Time: Apr 28, 2020 7:00 PM Pacific Time
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Meeting ID: 938 623 501
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Tenant after tenant testified before an emergency meeting of the City Council about how terrified they were of being evicted during the Covid 19 pandemic. One woman touched the hearts of the City Council when she told about her landlord wanting to evict her even though she had cancer. Recognizing that eviction is a major cause of homelessness, the Homeless Housing Subcommittee partnered with the Pasadena Tenants Union to advocate for a three-month Eviction Moratorium. And we won!
Sonja Berndt, another member of our team, began working on food distribution to those in need. She is also working to help convert rundown motels to homeless housing—a goal that now seems much more achievable since hotel occupancy rate has dropped from 80% to 6% in Pasadena, some may be very open to selling.
The Pasadena Housing Department has managed to house 80 of our homeless neighbors in motels where occupancy has dropped to 10%. This opens the door for possible purchase of a motel for supportive housing—one of this subcommittee’s primary goals.
Even as we address immediate and pressing needs, we don’t lose sight of our mission: advocating for supportive housing. We are still committed to convincing the City Council to approve 96 units of affordable family and permanent supportive housing at the Civic Center.
After a year-long campaign with weekly prayer vigils in the Civic Center, we have convinced the City Council to give preference to affordable housing on his site. Since our Subcommittee started advocating a year and a half ago, the City Council has approved 134 units of permanent supportive housing—enough to house over one third of our chronically homeless population. We are now in the process of working with service providers and other stakeholders to create a five-year strategic plan to have “functional zero” homelessness in Pasadena. We believe that with commitment and community engagement, ending chronic homelessness is possible. From 2011 to 2016, the homeless count was reduced in Pasadena’s 54%. We are convinced we can do even better in the next five years!
Where there is no vision, the people perish: Proverbs 29:18
Safe Parking Subcommittee
For Tom, one of the leaders of our Safe Parking Subcommittee, finding safe parking for those who are living in their cars is personal. His wife has her nails done by a woman who sleeps in her car with her dog. Tom and his wife are friends with this woman and want her (and others like her) to be decently housed. She is one of over 15,000 people who live in their cars in Los Angeles. Many of them feel unsafe and are threatened with fines. Many have had their cars impounded when they can’t pay their fines. Criminalization of the unhoused only exacerbates homelessness.
To help this population get on the path to being housed, the Safe Parking Subcommittee is working diligently to set up a pilot program in the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) in partnership with the Foothill Unity Center. They hope to have one or two sites ready in Pasadena by January 1st, 2021. With no Safe Parking programs in SGV, the need is urgent. Safe parking programs provide a safe place for those experiencing homelessness to park overnight, and with the support of a case manager create a path to obtain housing.
Churches have a unique opportunity to get involved with this program. A congregation can choose to offer their parking lot overnight as a sanctuary for the most vulnerable. So far, two churches in Pasadena have expressed interest in hosting safe parking. Our committee is eager to help. However, there is still a need for preparation before our Safe Parking Subcommittee is ready to launch a program in our city. We are looking for new team members.
Securing a funding source for the program remains a top priority. We continue to research suitable grants. Currently, we are investigating the idea of using an AmeriCore worker to help support the committee. We are also considering a volunteer security guard or to secure a commitment from the local police to help with security as a way to cut down on the program’s cost. Ironically, we met a security guard who is living in his car who would like to volunteer for this role. Despite obstacles, the Safe Parking Subcommittee plans to see their vision of safe parking lots throughout the San Gabriel Valley.
“ The godly care about the rights of the poor” Proverbs 29:7
Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) Subcommittee
For Anne Marie, a mother of five and one of the leaders of our ADU subcommittee, the dream of having a “granny flat” (otherwise known as an ADU) for her family members turned into a nightmare of red tape and unexpected fees. Pastor Len Tang faced similar roadblocks when he tried to build an ADU in his backyard. In 2019 they invigorated our dormant ADU Subcommittee to make it easier and affordable for homeowners and families to have ADUs. Encouraged by our efforts and new state laws, the Pasadena City Council has had to ease some of its onerous restrictions against ADUs in 2017. Even more restrictions were loosened in 2020, when it was required that cities across stop charging a $20,000 “impact fee.” The City Council wanted to sue the state, but our group successfully advocated against such unwise litigation. Nevertheless, for some homeowners interested in building ADUs, the process of building them remains convoluted and too expensive for the average person to afford.
Therefore, this subcommittee is working on a pilot partner program to lower the cost of ADUs and catalyze their construction by building at economies of scale, using pre-approved designs, streamlining the approval process and partnering with agencies that have access to rental subsidies. These innovative ideas have the potential to drive down the cost for homeowners to design, build, finance and then rent affordable ADUs to the most vulnerable.
Launching an ADU pilot partner program will require a significant amount of time, energy and resources. Fortunately, the subcommittee is taking steps to expand its team to 5 – 7 members with the skills needed to move the plan forward. Over the next year, the team plans to host education seminars to educate interested homeowners on the process of building ADUs and identify passionate individuals interested in serving on the committee. This team has met with the City of Pasadena Planning Department that is open to considering the idea of a design competition for a net-zero ADU that could be used on multiple times. The ADU subcommittee’s work is helping to “make housing and community happen” by empowering homeowners to envision their backyards, garages and homes (with Junior ADUs within a home’s footprint) as opportunities to create housing that is affordable.
One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” 2 Kings 4:8-37
Congregational Land Subcommittee
"We have lost 17 families in our church due to the high cost of housing!" "Our church has only eight members left!" "Displacement is destroying our community." As Mayor Tornek listened to the painful stories of five pastors from a historically divested neighborhood in Pasadena, he was deeply moved. As pastors expressed concern for their community and their congregations they spoke from the heart.
The Mayor was impressed by their desire to build affordable housing on their church land to help address displacement. After meeting at a cafe, the Mayor walked to their churches, to help him visualize how affordable housing could be built on their land. Finding sites is one of the biggest challenges for affordable housing developers. Mayor Tornek saw that building on their land was clearly a viable opportunity, and that this could happen on other church sites throughout the city, thereby meeting a huge need. One of the sites that the Mayor toured now has a concept plan of 48 units. The City Council Rep and Planning staff have viewed this plan, and support it.
Many congregations across the US have unused land. There are 5,773 churches or religious institutions in L.A. County (LA Almanac, 2010), with at least 392 acres of land (SCAG, 2016). Twenty-six churches in our area have already reached out to our Congregational Land Committee expressing interest in building affordable housing on their campus. Unfortunately, current zoning regulations conflict with the church's willingness to serve the community in this manner. Only one has the proper zoning for building affordable housing on excess land. When Phil Burns, chair of the Congregational Land Committee, and Jill Shook met with Mayor Tornek at a subsequent meeting, they discussed an overlay zone as an amendment to Pasadena's general plan. This solution would allow congregations to build affordable housing on their property. The Mayor has publicly supported this idea and it is expected that a proposal will be coming to the city council soon.
The Congregational Land Committee has been hard at work to secure funding for our professional urban planners, architects and affordable housing advisors. In order to achieve our goal of raising $200,000, we are working on several grants, including a Reissa and Chan Zuckerberg grant proposal. The committee also needs funding to create professional materials to share with churches and build support within the community. Our goal is to help churches fulfill their mission by being good stewards of their land and assets –parking lots that often sit unused and unused buildings they cannot afford to fix. With the help of our Committee, these assets can be turned into affordable homes.
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters…. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jeremiah 29:7-7
Church Liaison Network
Bert Newton, the coordinator of our Chruch Liaison Network, was looking for someone special. He had sent emails to the church office and made phone calls, but somehow every lead or meeting fell through. Bert was beginning to doubt he would ever succeed in making a vital connection with this key church in our community. That is, until he connected with Phil Burns at our Leadership Retreat in January. Phil heard Bert speak about the need for liaisons at his church and set up a meeting with the head of Pasadena Presbyterian’s Local Missions Committee. At this meeting, Bert met Areta, a Pasadena resident passionate about affordable housing and making a difference in her community. Areta, now retired, was Director of the LA County Dept of Mental Health. She was the person Bert had been looking for! From there everything fell into place. Soon after, Bert stood in front of the entire congregation at Pasadena Presbyterian as the Pastor commissioned Areta to serve as an official liaison. To the full congregation, Bert was able to share the history of our group’s successes, inspiring others to get involved.
Church Liaisons are essential to the work of Making Housing & Community Happen (MHCH). They solidify our relationship in the community and improve our capacity to advocate for affordable housing at the City Council. One of the most challenging aspects of ending homelessness, is to gain approvals for homeless housing, that sadly only too often has such strong opposition that proposed housing is stopped.
During our successful campaign to gain approval of permanent supportive housing for 69 homeless seniors at Heritage Square South, hundreds of letters and over a thousand signatures from church members were sent to the City Council. Key religious leaders spoke out passionately about the urgent need to house our homeless neighbors. With such a profound effect on the City Council, MHCH decided to hire a part-time church liaison coordinator to help organize churches to advocate for permanent supportive housing—which is what ends chronic homelessness.
Bert Newton has had 20 years of experience helping homeless people to get housed, which can be an emotionally exhausting career. A year ago he found himself burned out, ready for a change. He had the courage to quit his job knowing that God would provide. Jill Shook, director of MHCH, told Bert she would hire him in a heartbeat if they had the money. The next day a grant came through. She called Bert and he was hired a few weeks later! When being interviewed, he told the panel, “I can’t think of any organization that I believe in more.” He knows whereof he speaks because he became involved 20 years ago with the small group of affordable housing advocates! This group was the beginning of our housing justice efforts today, long before we formed a nonprofit.
Bert also has an impressive background as a Bible scholar. He has published a book on the Gospel of John and is presently producing a podcast on the Gospel of Matthew. For this reason, Bert connects with religious leaders at a deep level and helps them to understand the Bible from a social justice perspective.
The goal for the Church Liaison Coordinator is to recruit at least 20 committed church liaisons per year. This first year Bert has moved mountains, beyond our expectations, by with 18 liaisons, and with 5 months to go. In addition to meeting with pastors and lay leaders, he has served as a guest preacher, organized Bible studies, and Liaison training on how to be an effective advocate. He also recruited pastors and church leaders to be part of our weekly vigils to advocate for permanent supportive housing at the Civic Center.
The powerful role that liaisons play empowers the liaison and transforms their church. Connie Milsap, the liaison to the First Methodist Church of Pasadena, serves on our Core Group and has written several a compelling articles about MHCH’s housing justice effort for her church newsletter. Connie helps the church to have a voice at City Council Meetings on policies that affect low-income and homeless residents.
Bert is eager to expand this work throughout Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. Our goal is to keep him on as the Liaison Church coordinator for the next five years. To do that we need to raise $25,000 to meet next year’s budget.
To reach the goals of building such crucial networks in six adjacent cities, the plan is to host One-day housing Justice Institutes with interns at $10,000 each to help establish housing justice advocacy groups in each city. We have additional support from our partners to that end with LA Voice and Everyone In (United Way). With a powerful network of churches advocating for homeless and affordable housing, we feel hopeful that we can end homelessness in San Gabriel Valley.
“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them.” Luke 6:12
Community Land Trust Subcommittee
During the Civil Rights movement, a group of African Americans in Georgia realized that it wasn’t enough to have voting and civil rights, they also needed economic empowerment. Due to discriminatory policies and practices, African Americans were losing their farms and their livelihood, and they came up with a way to prevent that from happening: the Community Land Trust. With this model people own their homes, but the Trust owns the land and keeps the homes permanently affordable. We learned this amazing, true story during our monthly meeting in March when we shared an inspiring documentary entitled, Arc of Justice: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of a Beloved Community. The film follows the first community land trust founded in Albany, GA. It shows how these brave landless people ultimately won the right to live and care for the land. This is the power of the CLTs. This is the model that Making Housing & Community Happens hopes to adapt to the San Gabriel Valley. This has been tested and proven by over 250 CLTs throughout the US. CLTs not only keep homes permanently affordable, but they also help create a healthy and diverse community, fight gentrification, and provide the pride of homeownership.
Our CLT committee is currently in the formation stage. The first step has been finding a strong leader, and we have one in Rev. Connie Milsap, who says, “I have the time, commitment and experience needed to convene those who could help start or partner with the existing a CLT.” The next step is education. In February Connie Milsap and Jill Shook, MHCH Executive Director enrolled in two excellent courses from Grounded Solutions on the Basics of CLTs and the Municipal Perspective on CLTs ($170 per/person each). To begin community-based research, Connie met with leaders in Claremont that are forming a CLT for the San Gabriel Valley. This CLT is being developed in consultation with the cities of the SGV, including Pasadena. When our CLT subcommittee is soon formed, we will further research to either working closely with this existing CLT or start afresh and develop relationships with potential stakeholders. It is our hope that some team members will attend the Grounded Solutions national conference this fall. Your support will help our team continue to do the necessary educational course work to see a vibrant CLT established in our area.
“Land must not be sold in perpetuity, for the land belongs to me. And to me you are only strangers and guests” (25:23).
North Fair Oaks Empowerment
DeWalt Brown, who runs a Board and Care home on N. Fair Oaks, a neglected part of our city, was shouting with excitement when he called me: “The city put up the traffic signal we asked for!!” He could hardly believe that we could have what we collectively asked for from our City Council. We are resurrecting hope in this overlooked corner of Pasadena.
With the goal to “Beautify but not Gentrify” this lower income, primarily African American and Latino neighborhood, the strategy is to revitalize this area with and by the community. The focus area is on N. Fair Oaks Ave between Woodbury Rd and Washington Blvd. In 2015, 150 surveys were conducted to listen to the concerns and dreams of the community. From this listening exercise, leaders emerged to plan the NW Jobfest, where a street was closed and 500+ neighbors attended. The goals were accomplished: the 18 businesses and 10 churches, neighbors and nonprofits got to know each other; some applied for jobs, all shared assets they brought to the community--their stories, songs, prayer, gift baskets for prized. Mayor Tornek, Council member Hampton and Congresswoman Judy Chu made an appearance and got to know this community. All experienced a great time together.
From this experience, an ongoing “dream team” has formed. Neighbors have come together and successfully worked with the city to accomplish seven of their 15 specific “asks.” Today the team meets on the third Monday of each Monday (due the Covid 19 they are meeting via Zoom). When the mayor met with key pastors wishing to have affordable housing built on their church land, and visited their church properties, he carefully listened and heard their stories of losing members due to the high cost of housing. This was very empowering.
A generous donor contributed $18,000 to help hire an organizer to support their goals. They have committed to raising $2,000 to add to the $18,000 to make it $20,000. The hope is that this $20,000 will be matched with LA County to help the three churches wishing to build affordable housing on their property.
This teams priorities today are:
1. Affordable Housing-to build affordable housing on two or three church sites with the support of the MHCH church land committee.
2. Safety and beauty-to hire an organizer to help move forward to goals to have "Complete Streets" including a median with plants and pocket parks to slow traffic and beautify the street
3. An Employment Center-to help get people off the streets and into jobs.
We will know we have reached our goals when cars no longer speed down the road, when church members and people going to businesses don't feel afraid to park and walk in the area, when homeless folks in the area are housed, are employed in jobs they enjoy that pay enough to meet their needs, when people again feel proud of their community because a vibrant community has been resurrected. This is not impossible, because this kind of revitalization has been done in communities across the US and other parts of Pasadena like Old Pasadena that not long ago was a struggling area with boarded up businesses.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” Isaiah 58:12