Unhappy with the lack of affordable housing that developers are building in Pasadena, city policymakers are considering an ordinance that would require all new housing developments to include low-income units.
If Pasadena were to enact such a law, called an inclusionary zoning ordinance, it would join Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Long Beach among local cities that have imposed such a requirement. Officials in these cities are concerned that rising fortunes and land values will force poorer residents to live elsewhere, although they recognize the difficulties of pushing affordable housing proposals past neighborhood opposition.
Developers argue that such a blanket policy would act as a deterrent to construction of all types of much-needed housing, because it would make such projects harder to pencil out.
But city leaders and their advisers seem confident that market demand for housing is strong enough that developers will keep building even if the affordable-housing ordinance is passed.
"When you're a strong market, you can do anything you want," said Kathleen Head, a principal at real estate consultant Keyser Marston Associates, which is advising the city on its housing policy. "In Pasadena, the residential market is so hot that putting on such a restriction won't slow down development. The market adjusts to it."
In L.A. County, a two-bedroom apartment considered affordable for a low-income household would cost no more than $703 per month, plus utilities; a three-person household could earn no more than $37,500 a year to be eligible. For "very-low income" housing, affordable rent would be $586 per month, plus utilities; a three-person household would qualify if they earn no more than $23,450 a year.
More than 60 cities statewide have some kind of inclusionary housing ordinance. City leaders in Pasadena are talking about requiring that all developments include affordable housing, possibly a minimum of 15 percent of units on all projects with six or more units.
Of 3,800 apartment units either under construction or approved, fewer than 100 are considered low-income units, according to Pasadena housing officials. Most are luxury and high-end apartments, a trend common throughout Los Angeles County.
"We have a lot of luxury housing projects coming," Councilman Paul Little said. "We really need to do something to ensure units are affordable."
Some believe the inclusionary zoning ordinance might also defuse, to some degree, the neighborhood opposition to low-income housing. In Pasadena, the controversy is strongest in the northwest part of the city. City Hall was slapped with a lawsuit earlier this year by residents who said the city was putting too much affordable housing in the city's less-affluent northwest section.
Burke Farrar, a consultant at Odyssey Development Services and a former city planner, said he is concerned that inclusionary zoning is too coercive, when the city needs to focus on emphasizing incentives. "Having affordable units is a noble goal, but you've got to develop the property to get the units out there," Farrar said.
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