Pasadena Fast Tracks Senior Affordable Housing by Cutting Competition
By John Orona
In an effort to bring affordable housing to seniors sooner than through a traditional competitive bidding process, the Pasadena City Council has agreed to enter into exclusive negotiations with Bridge Housing to develop permanent supportive housing at the southern portion of the Heritage Square site in Northwest Pasadena.
The deal will save “at least a year” as compared to the usual “request for proposal” process, assuming the city and developer come to an agreement. But even with the expedited timeline, the city anticipates it will be about three years before the project can break ground, followed by another 18 months of construction.
Bridge’s current 65-unit affordable housing development at Heritage Square North took more than six years to complete but city officials are hoping that by using the same developer they’ll see increased efficiency throughout the design and construction processes and potentially shared services between the adjacent complexes.
“The further out we look the greater uncertainty the landscape in terms of financing, the availability of funds, interest rates, etc.” City Manager Steve Mermell said, explaining the need to go with a developer now rather than find one through a bid. “There’s more unknowns the longer we go and I think everyone would agree we don’t want to take another six years.”
The project is estimated to cost around $30 million and while the city anticipates only contributing the land, Bridge representatives would not rule out coming back to the council for more money when questioned by Council member Gordo.
“I don’t know if I feel comfortable saying ‘absolutely’ or ‘absolutely not.’” Bridge Executive Vice President Kim McKay said. “The program may change, and other things may change along the way… but our intent is not to come back.”
During the meeting the Pasadena community once again showed popular support for additional permanent supportive affordable housing. Over the last year Pasadenans have held vigils and rallies, packed into obscure committee meetings, sent hundreds of letters, and have inserted the issue of affordable housing during public comment of virtually every city council meeting.
“These efforts reinforce Pasadena’s leadership in the area of affordable housing production and preservation.” Pasadena League of Women Voters President Dorothy Keane said shortly before the motion carried. Several church groups and organizations such as LA Voice, Union Station Homeless Services and the Greater Pasadena Affordable Housing group were also in attendance and spoke in favor of the move.
Despite the vocal public support, the city timeline for construction includes eight months of identifying and meeting with stakeholders for community outreach before the design review and approval process. The timeline begins with two months for the creation of a working group made up of two Northwest commissioners and two local business representatives to provide input on retail tenant preferences, project design and even house rules for the senior tenants.
From there, the city expects it will take 10 months for the design and review process, seven more months to secure funding commitments from the state and county and finally, 10 months for plan check approval.
While the council would prefer both a competitive bidding process and for shovel to meet dirt sooner, it recognized this as a rare opportunity to take advantage of state funding availability and grassroot support to meet a growing need of a vulnerable population that does not have time on their side.
“The ‘moment-in-time’ argument is a compelling one.” Gordo said. “It’s probably the most compelling one.”