Learning Matters: Brainstorming needed to help address affordable-housing shortage

 Affordable housing in Glendale
Metro Loma, an affordable housing complex in Glendale.
(File Photo)

Two months ago, a friend forwarded me an email she’d received from her neighborhood association urging homeowners to contact our state senator, Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), to register opposition to Senate Bill 50.

As described in the email, the bill would have allowed that “any single-family home anywhere in the state could be converted to a multifamily house, up to a fourplex.”

It also would have allowed single-family homes in “high opportunity” and “jobs rich” neighborhoods to be replaced by multifamily housing, with some restrictions relating to current zoning laws, such as height limits.

At the time, knowing the urgency of the affordable-housing issue and living in a neighborhood with some beautifully designed duplexes and triplexes, I sent off a somewhat contrarian response to Portantino’s office. Acknowledging the need for amendments to the bill, I wanted him to know my general support for increasing access to affordable housing.

I was not surprised, however, and admittedly somewhat relieved, when Portantino used his authority as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee to halt the bill’s progress.

As he explained to me just this week, he agrees that housing is a pressing issue, but SB 50 was not the right bill. It was too far-reaching and took too much from local control. The tasteful fourplexes I could imagine fitting into a neighborhood were very possibly not what would have been built.

So what can be done to slow the exodus of families who are moving from Glendale Unified to communities with more affordable rents?

How will we attract teachers to work in our schools while living in or near Glendale? Must we expect them to travel more than an hour each way on increasingly crowded freeways?

My heart sank in sympathy with the Hoover High School community when I read the letter from its inspiring and award-winning instrumental music director, Martin Rhees, announcing his resignation following his family’s housing-related relocation. He loved Hoover and had hoped to work there until he retired.

What can we say to seniors and others on fixed incomes, worried about the next rent increase, or to the homeless looking for shelter? At last count, 2,300 individuals remain on Glendale’s waiting list for Section 8 (federally subsidized) housing, and no new applications have been taken in 18 years.

Some 300 applicants are on the waiting list for Ascencia, which provides the city’s homeless shelter.

How can we encourage more landlords to make some of their units available to low-income tenants?

Phil Lanzafame, Glendale’s director of community development, took time to sit down with me to elaborate on some of Glendale’s ongoing housing efforts.

For starters, he pointed me to the July edition of “City Connection,” where City Manager Yasmin Beers outlines a brief history of the Housing Authority’s efforts from 1975 to the present.

You can find her message on the city website,, under “Communications and Community Relations.”

Including 78 units currently under construction, she writes, “Glendale Housing Authority can claim nearly 4,450 units that serve lower-income residents in Glendale.”

Lanzafame added the fact that, including rehabilitation and other subsidies for “ownership units,” such as condos and houses, Glendale in some way currently subsidizes approximately 7,000 of its nearly 80,000 dwellings.

However, federal funds for subsidies have not grown with rising costs, and so the city is also working with our two local legislators on various fronts: to create tax credits for landlords who offer units for low-income housing with SB 521; to release Glendale’s redevelopment bond funds, still held by the state, for affordable housing with SB 532; and to help renters faced with high rent increases with Assembly Bill 1110.

“There is no simple solution to this issue … A variety of forces have played a role in this statewide crisis, and it will take a variety of forces to alleviate it,” according to Beers.

But as Lanzafame shared with me, forces in one arena can have unintended market consequences on another. Residents from neighboring communities can move into spaces envisioned for locals, or, as he showed me in a report in the Sacramento Bee’s July 16, 2019 edition, corporate tax cuts can reduce the incentive for corporations to claim tax credits for investing in affordable housing projects, resulting in “at least 15,000 delayed or killed affordable housing units in California.”

Beers’ message included a link to a July 2018 housing report to the Glendale City Council. The report closed with a statement of Lanzafame’s department’s intent to continue brainstorming for “a reliable, and preferably local, stream of revenue for affordable housing.”

I’m hoping community members will join in the brainstorming effort and that more property owners will consider the benefits of participating in the city’s low-income housing programs.

We need recommendations that could make a bill like SB 50 more palatable. Could it include more local control over height and other zoning restrictions? Parking permits to limit the number of cars belonging to residents? Clarifying and limiting the definition of “jobs rich” neighborhoods? For local purposes, could we have more assurance that zoning laws and building requirements will be followed?

As argued in the homeowner association’s email opposing SB 50, “Glendale has made a strategic decision to concentrate density in and around downtown and has added thousands of new units. The city’s new inclusionary housing ordinance ensures that Glendale will begin building many more affordable units right away.”

The implication of that argument is that the writers support housing development in and around downtown. I hope that argument is remembered the next time a housing development breaks ground.

Joylene Wagner is a past member of the Glendale Unified school board, from 2005 to 2013, and currently serves on the boards of Glendale Educational Foundation and other nonprofit organizations. Email her at

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