Centennial Place housing trade-off is key to Desiderio site transfer to Pasadena

Pasadena Star News

By Janette Williams, Staff Writer
Pasadena Star News

PASADENA – Work has started on revamping 144 singleroom units at Centennial Place as part of a complex tradeoff that may finally let the city take possession of the Desiderio Army Reserve Center in 2011.

Centennial Place, the historic former YMCA building near City Hall, is key to the revised Desiderio Concept Plan that City Council members passed in late December, said William Huang, the city’s housing director.

Before any property transfer, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development must be satisfied there’s an on- or off-site “homeless benefit” in place, Huang said.

“The conversion of Centennial Place to permanent supportive housing has a good chance of meeting HUD’s requirement,” Huang said. “Early indications from HUD are that it nicely meets their requirements, but they need some further documentation to ensure Centennial Place will provide the required benefit for the long term.”

In June 2007, HUD turned down the city’s proposal to put a nine-unit Habitat for Humanity bungalow court, park space and possibly an arts/environment community building on the prime 5.1-acre site on the edge of the Arroyo Seco. HUD said the plan had to include more offsite homeless housing.

Mayor Bill Bogaard said he hopes a new partnership between the city, Union Station Homeless Services, and Abode Communities – owner and manager of Centennial Place since 1991 – will be “favorably considered” by HUD. The Department of Defense, which owns the site, has final project approval.

“Union Station has agreed to take on significant responsibility for services that support the residents of the YMCA,” Bogaard said.

In January, the county Homeless Services Authority awarded Union Station a three-year, $750,000 grant for what Bogaard said the city intends to be “a very effective and supportive residential environment” at Centnnial Place. Another $250,000 from the county’s Community Development Commission was awarded for improvements, and Pasadena provided $80,000 from state accessibility funds for a wheelchair lift.

After the first three years, the building’s cash flow from renters will pay for services, Huang said.

Larry Johnson, Union Station’s director of program services, said it was a “great trade-off” all around. “We’re getting 144 potential affordable apartments for single adults – it’s just great,” Johnson said.

Current Centennial Place tenants will gradually be replaced with graduates of Union Station’s shelter program, he said, but no one there now will be evicted.

Eventually 100 percent of residents will be subsidized under Section 8 housing vouchers, paying about 30 percent of their income in rent, he said.

All residents will be provided with on-site services, including case management, substance abuse recovery, mental health referrals, money management and other support, Johnson said.

The single units, which Johnson likened to small but comfortable hotel rooms complete with fridge and sink, are now being improved, along with common areas and the shared bathrooms and kitchens on each floor.

Richard Bradley, director of property management for Abode, said until the agreement with the city, it’s been “challenging” for the nonprofit to maintain the building and tenant services.

Most renters, some under Section 8, pay about $400 to $500 a month, he said.

“There’s been limited money to renovate and make sure all is in good condition,” Bradley said. “The building is 100 years old, but it’s solidly constructed.”

Johnson said Union Station sent a letter to neighboring apartment buildings and business owners about the changes, but said it’s unlikely anyone will see a difference as tenants gradually change over.

“These people are not homeless any more. They’re formerly homeless who have stabilized to the point of having an income – they can pay rent,” said Johnson. “We don’t include anyone actively using drugs or alcohol, or who has (extreme) mental health issues … These are people who could use support services for a bridge period, and then they will graduate. That’s what happens now.”

Connect Online: