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REALTORS® Take Action: Pursuing Affordable Housing Solutions in the Pasadena Area

February 8, 2013

REALTORS® in the Pasadena-Foothills area of California want to be part of the solution in bringing affordable and work force housing to their residents.

It’s a smart move considering the continuing pressing demands for affordable and work force housing in Los Angeles County. The rapid escalation of housing prices even affected higher wage workers, according to a March 2007 housing report submitted to the city of Pasadena. The report shows that people who earn upward of $100,000 annually in Los Angeles County, where Pasadena is located, struggle to find affordable housing in the city. 

As the city of Pasadena prepared to review its affordable housing plan, the Pasadena-Foothills Association of REALTORS® reached out to the city planners offering to jointly host a Housing Summit. It was funded in part by a $5,000 Smart Growth Action Grant from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Laura Olhasso, Pasadena-Foothills Association of REALTORS® director of government affairs, said that roughly 250 people attended the event, including elected officials, commissioners, developers, bankers, neighborhood associations, teachers, police and fire fighters union representatives and leadership from faith-based organizations.

The idea was twofold: to show how affordable housing impacts everyone in the community and to also stave off any changes to the city’s affordable housing initiatives —including Pasadena’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance— that would drive up the costs of development and, subsequently, make housing even more expensive.

Olhasso said lack of affordable housing impacts everyone in the community, regardless of the amount of money they make.

“It increases traffic as commuters must travel farther and farther from home to work and impacts the local school district as enrollment figures continue to decline,” she said. “The Housing Summit increased the awareness of the complexity of housing issues and resulted in lessening of the NIMBY cries.”

Ultimately, the Housing Summit helped produce a plan, officially called the Housing Agenda for Action, that provided a blueprint the city should consider following as it pursues affordable housing for its residents, said Jim Wong, senior project manager for the city of Pasadena. 

Wong said the Housing Agenda for Action was unanimously approved by the city in 2007.

“The Pasadena-Foothills Association of REALTORS® has been active in providing positive input in several city affordable housing initiatives,” said Wong. “We would never imagine moving forward with an initiative without getting input from the REALTORS® association. It’s an automatic, if you will.”

REALTORS® haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with the city. For example, when the city of Pasadena initially passed the Inclusionary Housing Program, REALTORS® were on board with the requirements in the policy, including a mandate that 15 percent of new residential developments be set aside for affordable housing.

But the Pasadena Foothills Association of REALTORS® opposed subsequent changes to the ordinance the city proposed along the way that, if passed, Olhasso said, would have made it more expensive and difficult to meet the criteria, which isn’t good for anybody.

The Housing Summit gave REALTORS® the opportunity to show that they can help be part of the team that works on solutions to bring more affordable housing.

“At these types of events, we show that we are doing positive things and that we aren’t just always saying “no” to something,” said Olhasso, whose association also represents REALTORS® from San Marino, South Pasadena, La Canada-Flintridge, La Crescenta and Sunland-Tujunga. “The Housing Summit helped us be part of the solution because it showed that we were proactive within our community.”

The city of Pasadena reviews the effectiveness of its affordable housing programs to ensure that the stated goal of encouraging home ownership regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or marital status or ancestry, among other things, is being met.

The city does not own or operate public housing but, instead, tries to provide an adequate amount of housing by encouraging development of new affordable housing, the preservation of existing housing and financial assistance to secure home ownership. 

An evaluation of the 2005-2010 Housing Plan shows that in 2008-09, 93 newly constructed affordable housing units were completed for low-income or very low-income residents. 

Wong said the Pasadena Foothills Association of REALTORS® has been supportive of several city affordable housing initiatives, including contributing funds that the city used to match with federal dollars to provide down payments to qualified home buyers.

“They have been active in providing positive input in several city affordable housing initiatives,” Wong said.