• An African American white haired woman wearing a pink colored shirt and standing on front of a green plant

      Michelle White (Photo – ColoradoBlvd/W.K.).

      If you live in Pasadena, anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley, or over in the Northeast LA area, you are well aware of homeless people in tents along the roads, under the freeways and in the fields.

      By Christopher Nyerges

      It is a complex problem, and lawmakers are just getting around to tackling the root causes of the situation. Proposition 10 was intended to slow rising rents, one of the many factors that has led to homelessness. Yet, Proposition 10 went down in flames–with some pockets of support.

      Despite all the talk and wringing of hands, there is at least one bright light in this darkness: non-profits that provide safe, decent and affordable permanent supportive housing.  Michelle White is the director of one such non-profit, Affording Housing Services (AHS). White helps homeless folks one at a time, into housing, with services to keep them there.  AHS also houses very low and low income families.

      Michelle White

      Michelle White began as a litigator, working in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  She has been a fair and affordable housing advocate for years.  As the non-profit’s executive director, she now houses low and very low-income households, working out deals for the purchase and maintenance of units, as well as for rent subsidies and supportive services.

      Majority of people…
      can no longer
      Pasadena’s housing

      White, whose housing is currently located in NW Pasadena, has found this community most accepting of low-income families and affordable housing. “When developers try to place affordable housing and housing for homeless households in other parts of the city, they sometimes meet resistance. There is fear and a misunderstanding as to what might occur if previously homeless households move into the neighborhood.”

      A whole range of homeless people

      White points out that there is a whole range of homeless people.  Some are people who have suffered catastrophic medical conditions that they cannot afford; they sometimes end up living in their cars and sometimes on the street.  There is the stereotype that all homeless people are drug users, thieves and violent, but White contends that is not true for the majority of people who can no longer afford Pasadena’s housing.

      White provides homes for some of those who simply cannot make it on their own.  Her agency currently owns an 8-unit complex with two townhouses that have been set aside for women who have private bedrooms and share the other amenities of the units and the complex.

      Tenants and for-profit corporations

      We get people
      off the streets
      out of shelters
      into homes

      White points out that tenants comprise about 57% of Pasadena’s population, and there is a fair number of single and multifamily rental units now owned by for-profit corporations.  As a result, Pasadena rents have soared to $2000 to $2500 a month for a two-bedroom place and continue to escalate. White states that HUD suggests that 3-bedroom apartments in Pasadena should rent for $2,070 a month.  In addition to escalating rents, Pasadena landlords are permitted to evict tenants with only 30- or 60-day notices.  “In light of such housing insecurity, it’s hard for tenants to plan ahead,” White says, and Pasadena’s rapid gentrification is making much of the Pasadena area less and less friendly to low wage workers.  “There’s currently no rent control in Pasadena. Recent minimum wage gains are under attack, and low and moderate income tenants are organizing to secure rent control and just cause eviction protections.”

      She walks the talk: Out of shelters into homes

      The work that White does might seem like a drop in the bucket but the individuals she has helped with housing and services would not agree. Recently, a woman who was undergoing dialysis treatment and had been living in her car for two years was housed in one of the units owned by White’s non-profit. This woman was a former legal secretary who is now safe and living in housing she can afford.

      White says:

      We get people directly off the streets and out of shelters into homes, and we try to make the transition as seamless as possible. We also advocate on behalf of these tenants and those still on the streets and in their cars, seeking rent control, more permanent supportive housing and other reforms.

      Christopher Nyerges is an educator, writer, and reporter.  He’s authored nearly 2 dozen books including “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City,” and “How to Survive Anywhere.”

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