Local Politicians Weigh-in on Affordable Housing and the Unhoused

18 mins read
homeless tents under a bridge

In addition to our regular news beats at Local News Pasadena, we’ve taken a deep dive into interviewing candidates for the March 5th, 2024 primary election.

We interviewed 23 (and counting) political candidates about their opinions and positions on various topics. We asked them about their policies on affordable housing, the unhoused, and how they plan to solve this housing crisis.

Here are their comments and solutions.

Candidates for House of Representatives, District 30

Michael Feuer: I have concrete actions for Capitol Hill to address homelessness. I have been a leader in the country in going after medical facilities that unlawfully discharge homeless patients. It’s called patient dumping. I’ve had the experience also of being in communities where homelessness is not just a major issue for the people experiencing it but for the community itself. I want to cut through these artificial false choices between being humane and compassionate on the one hand and ensuring that we have streets that are safe and accessible for everybody on the other. We need to have both.

Mayor Bass described how the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the Biden administration explained that veterans are often confronted with the choice of accepting veterans’ benefits or qualifying for affordable housing because those benefits count as income. He said that he could not change that issue himself. It takes an act of Congress. What matters is veterans shouldn’t have to choose between getting veterans benefits or being housed. I’m going to work to change that. We need many more federal housing vouchers.

I have a multiple-pronged agenda for grappling with affordable housing – e.g., creating a refundable renter’s credit. We subsidize homeowners by giving them credit for their mortgage deduction. But if you rent, the federal government doesn’t offer credit, and that needs to change. I want to infuse federal money into helping to leverage the creation of affordable housing. There’s often a gap between what affordable housing builders have financially and what it takes to build it. That gap slows the creation of affordable housing. The federal government can help alleviate that problem.

First-time home buyers need to have additional benefits, especially in areas like Southern California. If you are a moderate-income person, it’s very hard to buy a home. Gap financing from the federal government can provide an incentive. It’s very important for us to have a mix of affordable housing unit sizes. We need multiple approaches that the federal, state and local governments work on together.

Homelessness is not a partisan issue. There should be a bipartisan effort to lift people out of homelessness in a nation where homelessness has become a top issue.

Ben Savage: I ran for City Council last year in West Hollywood, and the biggest issue was homelessness. We’re in the richest city in the richest state and the richest country in the world. We should be taking care of our community members, especially those who are unhoused. We need to provide more affordable housing, mental health care programs, jobs training, and a whole host of solutions in order to help stem the homelessness crisis in the community. We could talk about housing and healthcare all day. I don’t ever think it’s kind of a one-or-the-other situation. There are a whole host of issues.

Laura Friedman: I’ve done the most meaningful work of anyone in this race when it comes to providing affordable housing, and that’s why I’m being supported by Abundant Housing LA and others who care about creating affordable housing in this state. One of the biggest crises in California is the lack of housing affordability. We have robbed a whole generation of having the stability of home ownership. We’ve robbed people of the ability to be able to work in a middle-class job and be able to afford a decent place to live. We simply have not kept up with housing and affordable housing production.

The fastest-growing population on the streets is senior citizens. If someone all of a sudden can’t afford their rent because their rent was increased, they lost their job, have an illness or can’t work and can’t pay their rent, there is no magical housing fairy for them. We don’t have enough subsidized housing for low-income people. And we certainly don’t have housing affordability for people who are middle class.

We should be trying to keep more people housed where they are. It’s just a tsunami of people ending up unable to afford where they live. I authored tax credits for building affordable housing. But we also need a better partner in the federal government. We need to have the flexibility built into programs like Section Eight to make them more usable for landlords. We need the federal government to see housing as part of their responsibility and as a national crisis. It’s not just California that’s having these problems. This is happening around the country. And if you can’t house your population, you’re not guaranteeing people’s safety. You’re not giving them the chance to thrive.

Alex Balekian:  The reason we haven’t fixed the homelessness problem is that we are not treating it like the mental health and drug addiction crisis that it is. My plan would be to open federal institutions where these very severely mentally ill people can be hospitalized, treated, and given their medication until they are better and can be released for outpatient follow-up. It would also include sober living spaces, not just putting a roof over people’s heads but pairing intensive counseling with case management follow-up.

A lot of people don’t realize the number one predictor of sobriety is family support. Upwards of 40 percent of California’s homeless are from out of state. They live here, but their families, their support network who can keep them sober, are out of state. I propose that we transport people back to their home states and give them federal monies so their home states can take them back. We redistribute this lopsided homelessness back to where their families can support them and make sure they stay sober. That is the most surefire way.

Young people can’t afford to own a house in Pasadena, and parents cannot hand back the home to their children because of the tax grab that the Democrats passed that sidesteps Prop 13. People like Laura Friedman are precisely why this cost-of-living problem has occurred.

All of these regulations for building new homes or repairing existing homes where you have to use a certain type of energy-conserving window or certain types of fire-resistant shingles – what happens? Those drive costs up, which is why insurers have left the state; it’s too expensive now to rebuild a home based on the restrictive regulations the California Legislature has put into place. The blame for this expensive housing lies squarely on the shoulders of somebody like Laura Friedman. And they want to do another tax grab where they actually try to get taxes when the house changes hands.

Anthony Portantino: I’ve always been much more of an FDR Democrat on affordable housing. We should build it; we should fund it. I’ve tried to make sure that a lot of our housing laws have accountability in them. I have proposed a first-time Home buyer Assistance Program, getting more home buyers and more people into equity building to put some effort into home buying versus just rental properties. I’ve been putting that on my agenda for a while, as well as placing housing policies into the legislation. We need accountability to make sure we build affordable housing, not just market-rate housing.

Candidates for California State Senate, District 25

Elizabeth Wong Ahlers. Photo: Campaign

Elizabeth Wong Ahlers: Of course, homelessness is an issue. People have come to California because it’s so, so beautiful. The programs that I would support and promote at the state level will be those that sustain families, children, and businesses. As a council member, I see the concerns of our constituents as things that are coming from the state level. It has to do with their own properties here locally. And so we need to go back to the state level to make these decisions.

Sandra Armenta: At one of our Rosemead City Council meetings, I literally begged the developer to give us one affordable unit, at least one. He said no. The city could not do anything because he decided not to take any of the incentives offered. What is the state doing to make sure that affordable housing units are being built when more and more mandates are being put on developers that increase the cost of buildings?

Where’s the mandate for developers to have at least a certain percentage of affordable housing?  We need to make sure that the bills correspond to what each city is dealing with.

For example, we have a 17-acre prime location lot between the major corridors in Rosemead that has been vacant for 15 years. It’s called land banking. So many investors buy property, and there’s nothing that cities can do to make them develop that land. I proposed that landowners have five years to develop their land. If they don’t develop that land in those five years, then it gets deeded to the city. No legislator would take that on.

Without there being the authority or the assistance to make them develop that land, there’s nothing we can do. We all understand that there is a housing crisis. But if we don’t address it, the crisis will continue. We actually adopted a small lot ordinance. They’re much less expensive than the other units because the lot is smaller. It still allows people to purchase property but at a much smaller land mass. It’s giving many families the opportunity of home ownership at a much more reasonable cost. We need to share this information.

Sasha Renée Pérez: We’re seeing a lot of folks fall into homelessness right now, unfortunately, because we’re seeing a rise in evictions happening throughout the state. And so it’s definitely a big cause for concern. I think that there are a number of things that need to be done. First and foremost, we must build more affordable housing. We do not have enough housing currently to house those folks permanently. That’s the direction I think that we need to start moving. I also think that there can be streamlining of requirements for some of these housing providers as well, making it easier for them especially when they’re building housing for low-income families.

Candidates for Pasadena City Council

District 2 – Rick Cole: The issue that I stress the most is one that I think is a legitimate emergency in our city – homelessness. And it’s absolutely true that Pasadena does a better job and is in better condition than the City of Los Angeles. But to me, City Hall is failing to recognize that we are on the road to the situation in Los Angeles, that the homelessness issue is getting worse and will continue to get worse unless we mobilize all the resources in the community to tackle it. That includes the business community, faith community, civic community, and individuals in our city who have a desire to prevent the scourge of hundreds of people wandering the streets of Pasadena at night looking for a place to sleep.

What we see in Los Angeles is just how much of a human catastrophe and how much of a community catastrophe it is to allow homelessness to become embedded as just another ongoing challenge to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. The fact is that folks who are unhoused are incredibly diverse, and how we deal with the problem needs to be incredibly nuanced.

Folks who are veterans need to get connected with Veterans Administration resources. For folks who are mentally ill, we need to work with the county to improve and expand the services that can help people get off the street. We need to help young families that are living in their cars to have a safe place to park until they get back on their feet and maybe help with the first and last month’s rent. Other people simply need an opportunity to work, and that will be transformative…whether it’s a job or its job training in order to be ready for a job. Those are things that can be done on an individual basis.

How do you get 300 people off the streets? It’s one at a time. But we need to be accelerating that one at a time because the problem is growing and not shrinking. If we can maximize the resources we have already then we can make a much stronger case for additional investment.

District 2 – Felicia Williams: There are two separate issues – land use and funding. The city lost its main source of affordable housing funding in 2012. We don’t have any funding to do affordable housing. People are wondering why the city isn’t building more affordable housing. Well, we can’t. We don’t really have funds anymore. And we have to rely on developers to build affordable housing. What we can do is rezone and provide incentives. We have three affordable housing projects going in in District 2, which is rare. District 2 is single-family residential, but we have three projects. One is a mixed-income project by Heritage Housing Partners. Everyone from very low income to market rate will be in that building. Then, we have two emancipated foster youth housing projects receiving partial support from Pasadena City College. For the residential students there, a portion of their rent will be paid. We’re just so fortunate to have these projects. There’s such a huge need.

Regarding homelessness, there are two issues. One is a housing issue, and the other is mental health, substance abuse, and trauma. We need to provide more services. I’m working with the mayor on the development of the former site of the Kaiser Outpatient Health Clinic on Lake into a city mental health clinic and housing project. We understand the challenges, and this will be a game-changer for people who have a mental illness, have substance abuse issues and are homeless in Pasadena. They can go somewhere, get treated, and then go straight into housing, which would be on the second floor of the building. It’s a brand-new model that no other city has done, and we’re doing it in partnership with County Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

District 3 – Brandon Lamar: The important thing we have to remember when we are looking at affordable housing is that we have to consider everyone. Everybody’s situation is different. People are being priced out of Pasadena, being gouged out of Pasadena. We cannot say that Pasadena is a diverse city when we don’t support everybody. When I knock on doors, the biggest issue I hear from homeowners is, ‘I want my children to be able to live here. I want my grandchildren to be able to stay locally so that I can see them, so they don’t have to live in another county or another state.’

I support rent control. I think rent control is just a piece of the pie. We have to build more affordable housing units, more multi-use housing, and more working-class housing for people who are working in our communities and building their families.

I also believe in home buying. I think we have to create more opportunities for home ownership, like down payment grants. Housing is a service. Mom-and-pop landlords who create housing and who have housing available for our community are a service to our community. We have to understand and help those people who want to provide a service, who really live here, have investment properties here, and their livelihood here.

District 4 – John Doyle: There should be more apartment buildings that are affordable. There are some new places downtown that are just super unaffordable. They’re just a lot of marble.If it has too much marble design, I don’t see it as something regular folks can afford. Younger people can’t afford them. We need more jobs to support the local economy. I’m looking to keep Pasadena humming, thriving, and vibrant, to bring it into the 21st century and let it take advantage of clean technology, grow its middle class, and increase its social safety net. We need to ensure that the social safety net works for working people and that they don’t become unhoused. I have ideas to help them in parallel.

District 4 – Jonathan Horton: We need to bring back and expand the tenant-based eviction prevention programs. Basically, that is a program that helps people stay in their homes if they’re facing eviction. Instead of letting people go homeless and then the city spends a bunch of money on the back end, trying to find a place for them to live, or offer subsidized housing to help people stay in the homes they’re already in. I want to make it a more permanent program. I want to raise the minimum income eligibility for that program, increase the number of applications accepted, and possibly expand the program to cover other expenses like water and electricity costs. I think one of the biggest ways to help fight homelessness is to keep people in their homes in the first place. I would like to see a program about shared housing. For people who have extra space in their homes or build an ADU, these homeowners enroll in the program, and the city matches them with a person in need of housing. It’s a way we can help two different parties at once. We can help people who have high mortgage or electricity payments by offering space that they have to provide housing for those who desperately need it.Some other cities are already doing this and it’s getting great results. It is a voluntary program. It’s a win-win situation that we should absolutely explore.

Candidates for Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, District 5

Kathryn Barger: I know when I go out and talk to my constituents, their top concerns are homelessness and public safety. Those two are neck and neck because people want to address the homelessness issue in a compassionate, empathetic way but also recognize these are quality of life issues and public safety. They feel that having a safe community is important to them. When I look at the history of homelessness, I have truly collaborated with my cities, and we made headway, but it’s not just about housing. It’s about mental health and addiction. And if we don’t address those two components, we’re not going to fix this problem.

I’ve been appointed to a commission for mental health and well-being. I’m a co-chair with others from all over the country to address the fact that we need to look at federal, and in this case, the State of California, changes that need to be put into play to address the mental health needs of those languishing on the street. That means putting more beds in place but also housing them once they are stabilized so they do not end up back on the street. I have been committed to that, and I will continue to be committed to that because housing is not the complete answer. Housing alone is not going to resolve the homeless crisis on the street.

Marlon Marroquin: I want to speak more about the critical situation on our streets, especially concerning people experiencing homelessness. The tools and information to prevent the rise of homelessness and crime have always been available, but they weren’t utilized effectively. It’s not about maintaining the political status quo. It’s about uniting our diverse communities to prepare for global challenges.

Konstantine Anthony: I will be campaigning for the repeal of Article 34, which is on the November ballot. If we repeal it, the city of Pasadena will be able to build public housing without having to go to a ballot, and the County can invest in those public housing constructions directly. Housing issues come down to two different aspects – housing that’s already built and adding ADUs. We need to streamline the ADU process. You have to be able to make it affordable and cost-effective. I am a huge pro-rent control guy. We need rent control across the board. I’m working this year to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act (1995). Under Costa-Hawkins, you can’t put rent control on single-family homes, so most of the single-family homes in Pasadena are owned by corporations and rented by individuals. We need to start putting strict rent controls on single-family homes. That would create the incentive for these big corporations to begin selling their single-family homes.

That’s when the tax abatement comes into play. If you’re buying a single-family property, you get a tax abatement. The other part of affordable housing is new development. I want to create another tax abatement incentive for developers to build up to 50% of their units into three- and four-bedroom, affordable housing units. They can get up to a five-year tax abatement. If you tell them they don’t have to pay their property taxes for the first five years of purchase, they will faint over how great this sounds.

If we can give them that tax abatement, they’ll pay it back at the end, and the County won’t lose any money. I’d also like to convert apartment buildings into co-ops or flipping them into condos. Having a housing department at the County level looking at all of these facets will start to change the landscape instead of having massive, corporate-owned apartments and housing where everyone’s a renter, and everyone’s rent goes up every year. We start to really build communities and build neighborhoods with real home ownership. We’re in this housing crisis because we haven’t built, we haven’t grown the population.

Candidates for California State Assembly, District 41

Jed Leano: We should have professionals to handle mental health and homelessness issues who are tailored and trained in that. When we don’t properly think these issues through and don’t make adequate policy responses, we put all that on law enforcement, and we get unsurprisingly mediocre results.

I spent the first half of the year in 2019 fighting to bring an award of Measure H money to Claremont. We brought back a very successful Measure H award for Pomona, LaVerne and Claremont, and we created a three-city response to homelessness where every city had responsibilities. We shared information and resources, and because of the implementation of those funds and the homeless services delivery plan I secured, by my second year in office in 2020, we had reduced homelessness by 41%.

I believe that you have to have a robust system for homeless services delivery that shares information with regional neighbors. Everybody’s circumstances are different, and not everyone will accept the same type of help. When people are not yet ready to receive a placement, you have to meet them where they are.Our homeless services plan funded the shower program, hospitality program, and laundry program. We offered basic and immediate assistance, and what does that do? It accomplishes the gaining of trust. When you gain trust and you show people that you can provide basic needs right now, at some point, they’ll accept help. That was a critical point for us to understand that it was going to be a long road with some of our unhoused neighbors.

Phlunté Riddle: The number one fastest-growing homeless population, next to families, is senior women. That’s staggering to me. We’re talking about senior women who are mothers and grandmothers, and yet they are now homeless at an alarming rate, some of whom are living in their cars and on the street. That’s unacceptable.

Let Doctor Riddle talk for a moment, okay? People are feeling afraid and having secondhand trauma. Things are not out of control. But even if that is the perception, it becomes your reality. I know people who don’t watch the news anymore. They can’t take it because it has too much impact. Acid starts pumping, and you start to feel agitated and anxious; you have a headache, and you don’t really want to go outside. That can be the result of overexposure. Children can no longer afford to live in the communities where they were born and raised. We have to have low-income housing through to market-rate housing.

Candidate for Los Angeles County District Attorney

Debra Archuleta: I’m hoping that the CARE court can be influential. I don’t know what the CARE Court will look like because it hasn’t been implemented yet. We need a period of time, and we’ll obviously have a better view of how that looks by the time of the general election in 2024. Everyone is optimistic. However, there was pushback on the CARE court, including from some organizations such as the ACLU. It is my belief, based on my 20 years of experience in the district attorney’s office and seven years as a sitting superior court judge, that the homeless situation has exponentially increased due to the passage of Prop 47 and Prop 57. Our fellow citizens did not live in these squalid conditions even five years ago.

The drugs that are on the street now that are very accessible and available are much more potent. They’re laced with fentanyl and methamphetamine. The drugs now are causing all sorts of substance abuse disorders. They are causing mental illness due to psychosis based on the repeated use of these very, very strong drugs. This is what is leading to this overwhelming number of mentally ill homeless people on the streets.

We no longer have the ability to force people into mandatory drug treatment programs. When I’m elected, I am going to require, as best I can, to get people into drug treatment and mandatory drug treatment and rehab programs. If they fail to participate, then there will be a consequence. Because of the potency and toxicity of the substances on the street, this has led to a great increase in mental illness and, consequently, homelessness on the streets. Also, under Prop 57, approximately 65,000 inmates have been released from prisons into the county where they were paroled. Many don’t have jobs or cannot return to their families. They are also a percentage of the people living on our streets.

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Sheryl Turner

Sheryl is Local News Pasadena's Publisher and Pasadena Media Foundation's Founder. When not saving local news, she devotes her spare time to finding the best meatloaf in town.
Email: [email protected]

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