Advocating for the issue of affordable housing is hard, hard, hard. There is all the grunt work of advocacy (advocate meetings, lobbying of city council members, writing letters, going door to door to organize stake-holders) without the excitement of marches and rallies (which is actually just fine with me – I prefer the steady hustle of behind-the-scenes activism). It’s also hard because there are a lot of arcane things one needs to grasp, for example, about land use and zoning and all the conditions needed to empower an affordable housing project to proceed. When it comes to affordable housing justice, the devil truly is in the details.
There are times, of course, when getting a crowd in City Council chambers is necessary, and the two women in Pasadena who get people to show up the past two decades and running are Michelle White of Affordable Housing Services (Michelle is an affordable housing real estate developer) and Jill Shook, author of Making Housing Happen. Their commitment is unmatched, inspiring, and educational to all who feel called to work on this issue. Currently they have attracted an attorney who works for Kaiser and is studying the conditions for optimal health (he has found the dearth of affordable housing to be a significant impediment), seminary students from Fuller, people of faith, pastors such as myself, and formerly homeless women who found their way to affordable housing and are giving back.
I worked with Jill and Michelle a lot about eight years ago when the activist group was known as PAHG (Pasadena Affordable Housing Group) and now I’m getting back in the game with G-PAHG (Greater Pasadena Affordable…). Back then I tackled the issue of granny flats, one piece of the affordable housing puzzle, where affordable housing is created by homeowners able to construct a second unit on their property for affordable rents. Sadly, the city officials didn’t find the political momentum to remove the prohibitive restrictions (your lot must be at least 15,000 square feet!), and G-PAHG is still working on it.
Since I have “been there, done that” with granny flats, I’ve joined a sub-committee that could have a lot more “bang for the buck” as far as creating the most affordable housing units per project moving forward. Affordable housing is so unsexy there isn’t even a catchy phrase for what I’m trying to describe, but here’s an attempt: Land development for affordable housing. Too bad I can’t throw a bikini on that.
Land is damned expensive, so one of the most important preconditions for an affordable housing project is to use land the city already owns. Every district in Pasadena has city-owned land that could potentially be developed in this manner (the beautiful new housing you see across from the Von’s on Fair Oaks, near Orange Grove, is one such project). Problem is? City Councilors say, “not in my district!”
But there is plenty of research showing that mixing low-income dwellings in higher-income neighborhoods have all kinds of good outcomes, especially for the children who grow up there; they are more likely to enter the middle class. Another important point to note is that if we care about keeping Pasadena diverse, then creating more affordable housing is a must. Already, the African American population has been cut in half in Pasadena since the 90’s, because they are priced out.
So I am setting up meetings with all the Pasadena City Council members to ask them to look at the land available in their districts, and present solid talking points about the win/win aspects of moving these affordable housing projects forward (among other pieces of the G-PAHG agenda). Thankfully, there is one City Council member who has already seen the light, Margaret McAustin, and the affordable housing project in her district is nearing completion. Setting her courageous precedent will work in our favor.
I’m also excited to participate in a friendly debate about why the city of Pasadena should have a separate Housing Commission, rather than the matter of housing be relegated to discussion only four times a year in the Planning Commission (which amounts to members being educated but no action taking place). Michelle, Jill, and myself make up the pro-side of the panel. This will take place Thursday evening, July 14th, and I’ll blog more about the details soon.
That’s enough for now – I’ll make affordable housing sexy, by golly! You’ll see. Until next time, Do the Hustle!
– Rev. At-Large aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!