First published in the April 29 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
Progress on South Pasadena’s housing element lurches on after the City Council voted 4-1 to approve contract amendments for the element as well as the general plan and downtown specific plan.
The original deadline for the housing element was Oct. 15 last year, with a grace period that extended that deadline to Feb. 11. However, due to changes in state housing laws and state Department of Housing and Community Development regulations, finalizing South Pasadena’s housing element has been a slow process.
“What kind of guarantees can you give residents of South Pasadena and the City Council of completing a compliant housing element as well as a general plan downtown specific plan to HCD that would not be rejected? So far, we’ve got all the rejections,” Councilwoman Evelyn Zneimer said at last week’s council meeting.
HCD’s latest comments to the city were to request additional analysis of geographical and demographic data for the sites inventory, to align South Pasadena’s plan with requirements of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Act.
The council’s action to approve the contract amendments will increase staff’s budget to help make these adjustments. HCD also asked that AFFH data is included throughout the entire housing element document, which is an eight-year plan for housing in the city.
South Pasadena was allocated 2,067 potential new housing units through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA. An inventory done by the city’s planning staff concluded that South Pasadena’s housing element can accommodate up to 2,355 housing units. Additionally, 72% of new units included in the housing element must be affordable for very low, low or moderate incomes.
A city’s housing element is meant to highlight how the city can theoretically accommodate the construction of its RHNA-allocated units. Broadly, the document must identify specific properties with development potential and show that its local zoning codes would permit such projects.
New accessory dwelling units or some of the 68 Caltrans-owned properties in the city could be used as affordable housing options. The council voted at the April 20 meeting to release a request for proposals to conduct property inspections and repair estimates on Caltrans properties that the city might have interest in buying and possibly using for affordable housing.
Changes in state legislation and regulations as well as turnover in staff and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused delays in finalizing the housing element.
City manager Arminé Chaparyan noted that at one point multiple staff members involved in the community development department had contracted COVID-19 and were unable to work.
“I would love to guarantee that we will have our housing element approved,” community development director Angelica Frausto-Lupo said. “I cannot guarantee when HCD will approve our housing element, but I could let you know that we are absolutely doing our best to bring it into compliance.”
For what it’s worth, South Pasadena is not the only city having difficulties meeting housing plan requirements. Of the 197 jurisdictions involved in the current housing cycle, just nine cities have approved housing elements.
“We join dozens of cities who are facing the same challenges we are facing,” Chaparyan said. “Especially given the ongoing changes with legislation that’s being introduced at the state level that cities are really being held hostage to in some ways. We are doing our best to comply.”
When the latest housing element draft is completed, it will be publicly available for comment from the community.