City Council Takes Comprehensive Approach to Housing

The City Council during its last meeting on Feb. 6 unanimously approved the city to hold town hall meetings that will cover four major components of the housing issue in South Pasadena.

Those four major components are accessory dwelling units (ADU), commonly referred to as granny flats; inclusionary housing, also known as affordable housing; a rental inspection program; and tenant relocation assistance, according to John Pope, So Pas public information officer.

“It was decided to approach this in a comprehensive way that would include all the housing issues,” Pope said in a brief interview about the upcoming town hall meetings that have not been scheduled yet but are slated for some time in April.

The city initially was going to seek the public’s input on the housing rental inspection and tenant relocation assistance programs. However, city officials realized that granny flats and affordable housing were also a top priority so they decided to include all the issues under a single banner.

The council voted 5-0 to explore these concepts that would ultimately place the city in a stronger position as far as housing oversight is concerned.

“I’m very pleased that we are going to bring these critical housing-related issues forward for community input and discussion in April,” Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian said in an email to The Review. “The Council has heard from quite a few residents who want the City to address affordable housing and tenant protections. It’s very important that we hear from all our community stakeholders in order to craft ordinances that are the best fit for South Pasadena. I’m looking forward to having that dialogue with our residents.”

Depending on the outcome of the discussions with residents, the city is looking at creating an inspection team for rental properties that would ensure the properties are satisfactory. Also, it is looking at helping renters relocate when proven necessary. Then there’s the issue of granny flats. What should the requirement be to have one or to build one? What should the lot-size be? These are the small cottage-like dwellings that sit separate or attached to a residence. City officials estimate there are many such dwellings already in use in South Pasadena.

Moreover, the issue of affordable housing is going to be a much-debated topic. There might be many disagreements about affordable housing but city officials say there is no disagreement over the need.  It’s needed and needed now, they say. So do residents.

One resident spoke to that very issue at the Feb. 6 City Council meeting during public comment where she said “families are getting priced out of South Pasadena.” She went on to complain that the lack of adequate housing has not been adequately addressed by the city.

Mayor Dr. Marina Khubesrian countered by saying the city was working  diligently within its resources to address housing issues and she encouraged the public to stay for the agenda item that dealt with affordable housing later in the meeting.

“We are basically working actively and doing what we can within our resources at this time,” Khubesrian said.

The impetus for a more proactive role into the rental housing situation has been several complaints regarding problems and challenges with rentals, according to Pope.

“It’s nothing at a crisis level, but yes, we have been receiving complaints,” Pope said in an earlier telephone interview with The Review.

The most significant way to rectify the issue of substandard housing in rental units would be to have regular inspections of apartments, according to city officials.

A city staff report from City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe explained the reasoning behind the inspection request and the tenant relocation assistance.

“Inspection of rental units is a tool used by many cities to maintain housing standards and preserve rental housing. Inspections ensure the safety, quality, and maintenance of the City’s multi-family housing stock. Similar programs in other cities have been effective in identifying multi-family properties that suffer from neglected maintenance and safety issues.”

The report goes on to state that about 50 percent of So Pas housing is multi-family homes and of those, nearly three-quarters were built before 1970 and almost one-third were built before 1940.

“Approximately 50 percent of the housing stock in South Pasadena is multi-family dwelling units,” the report states. “Older housing stock tends to have more issues due to deferred maintenance, lack of ADA accessibility, inadequate electrical wiring, used of lead-based paint, asbestos, and other issues.

The inspections will identify the existence of substandard and unsanitary residential rental properties and create a mechanism by which the City can hold property owners liable for bringing the properties up to minimum Municipal and State Building, Housing Code and Health and Safety Standards.”

The inspection program also benefits the landlords, according to the city.

“Inspection of rental housing can make landlords aware of poor conditions before they worsen, encouraging preventative maintenance that is more cost effective than deferred maintenance, and help landlords maintain their properties,” the report continues. “Inspection of rental housing protects tenants that may fear complaining about the habitability of their rental housing and being evicted or having their rent increased consequently. Inspection of rental housing preserves neighborhood property values by preventing poorly maintained substandard housing.”

The question of enforcement is also addressed and could include penalty fees for non-compliance.

“If a property is deemed in violation of habitability or housing quality standards, the inspector would initiate enforcement actions, including but not limited to penalties and fees for non-compliance and re-inspection.”

The city is examining the possibility of bringing on a consultant to help shape an appropriate fee-schedule after a comprehensive fee study is undertaken and completed.

Meanwhile, the tenant relocation assistance will help low-income households with moving costs, deposits and securing replacement housing.

“The purpose of a tenant relocation assistance policy is to help mitigate the adverse health, safety and economic impacts experienced by residents of rental housing who are displaced from their residences due to circumstances such as I) demolition of a rental unit, 2) redevelopment of a rental unit, 3) conversion to a condominium unit or 4) change from residential use to nonresidential use,” according to the staff report. “The policy would require the property owner to provide relocation assistance to tenants impacted by these specific conditions.”

A city ordinance is required as opposed to a resolution or other non-binding action because it will protect low-income households from being forced out into the streets, according to city officials.

“A local ordinance will further protect eligible tenants who have been displaced from a rental unit within a multi-family complex of three or more units.,” the staff report states. “The proposed relocation assistance ordinance will only apply to ‘no-fault’ end of tenancy situations. ‘No-fault’ end of tenancies is when the landlord wants the unit back for personal or business (reasons).”