Which World Do You Believe In? Progressive or Elitist?

An Affordable Housing Commission (AHC) for Pasadena? Yea or nay? There are commissions galore in Pasadena, including one for bikes and one for trees – but not for housing.  WTF?

The city used to have one, but it was disbanded in 2012 when a major source of funding dried up.

At the friendly debate last week that pitted affordable housing advocates, myself among them, against two city commissioners and an affordable home-owner developer, the story of funding drying up became a refrain: in the wake of 85% of federal HUD dollars and other funding sources disappearing, everyone is wondering what to do.

The nay-side says an AHC would cost too much money and staff time. Another developer in attendance pointed out to me in a break-out session that preceded the debate that “gentrification is happening everywhere, especially on the west coast. It can’t be stopped.” All this noise added up to: so what if we’re losing our racial and ethnic diversity in Pasadena because many are priced out. This is the way of the world – the elites get to live in a city of . . . other elites.

But our side argued that everyone is affected by our city’s housing policies. How? Certainly the 500+ homeless and low and very-low income residents who struggle to find adequate housing, but also our children in the PUSD. Our public school teachers who can’t afford to live here have long commutes and are probably not at their best when more sleep-deprived. Our police and firemen can’t afford to live here either, and are less invested in the community they police, which may also compromise job performance. We are all affected by air quality, and more cars driving long distances to Pasadena for jobs degrades the environment.

This is why I began my spiel with this sentence: “With an AHC, Pasadena could be a model of urban development that ensures diversity, economic generation, and environmental innovation.” We shouldn’t settle for “this is the way of the world.” There’s a better one possible, but yes, it will take more effort and funds.

But not much. Let’s talk about money. Did you know the police are burdened by incidents related to homelessness? One sworn police officer might spend his or her entire 8-hour shift dealing with a homeless person who is having a mental health crisis. And when all is said and done, several hundred dollars later, that homeless person ends up back on the street. Did you know the city allocates about $67 million for its police services, and the housing department gets less than $2 mil? Hmmm.  All that the staffing would cost for an AHC is 1/5 of an FTE.  And what if we prioritized the creation of permanent supportive housing for our homeless, preventing the draining of our police resources in the first place?

Another nay-argument was that it’s really the advocates who “get things moving” and convince the City Council to move in desirable directions. Not another city commission. What a brush-off. What advocates are asking for is the AHC (advocates had also needed to fight for a housing department). In other cities of comparable size in CA that have an AHC, they are able to find or create additional funding sources, strengthen policies, educate about the deep complexities of affordable housing, and find ways to expedite development projects (not slow them down, as the nay-side clucks).

It recently came to my attention that Pasadena votes overwhelmingly progressively – 70% of us voted for Gov. Jerry Brown and President Obama. But our municipal leadership is made up of conservatives and moderates. Indeed, advocates will always play an important role in steering the municipal ship toward progressive ordinances and policies – policies that believe in a city as it could be, rich with ethnic and economic diversity, clean air, and innovation. Isn’t it interesting that we meet this roadblock when we ask that attention to these matters be instituted within the city government?

When they say, “no, we can’t,” we’ll say, “SI, se puede – YES, we can.” We just need one more vote on the City Council to get the AHC.   So keep hustling – write a note to your city councilperson. At the last G-PAHG meeting (Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing Group), we had 18 people in attendance. Come join the party!

Until next time, Do the Hustle!

 Rev. At-Large, aka Rev. Hannah Hustlin’ Hope Petrie!

1 thought on “Which World Do You Believe In? Progressive or Elitist?”

  1. I’m convinced that the issue driving the lack of affordable housing – in Pasadena, in California, and throughout many parts of the United States and Canada – is that people who need housing for housing are being priced out by investors who are using housing as a financial instrument.

    The true solution to this problem goes far beyond the ability of a city commission and requires a progressive approach to financial reform, both here in California and across the country. The solutions will require replacing Prop 13 with a portable benefit that caps your primary residence’s property tax to a percentage of your income (to free up inventory by removing the tax penalty to downsize within the state), an unoccupied property tax to discourage investors who hold property vacant, and – here’s the big one – a ban on home equity loans, to dry up the value of property as a short-term investment vehicle. (Isn’t that how Texas avoided much of the first housing bubble?)

    Unfortunately, housing is a generational issue – not an ideological one. I suspect that many self-styled progressive Baby Boomers who have profited from these housing bubbles (and might even have convinced themselves that these are not asset bubbles anyway), would become hard-core, Wall Street-defending Republicans if you tried to take away their ultra-low Prop 13 tax rates and home equity loans. And young people aren’t exactly well motivated to rally around the cause of real estate finance reform.

    But if local commissions, thought leaders and organizing groups can begin to get people at least to see what these real issues are, well, that’s a start toward making some difficult reforms. And we need that.

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