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College students reach out for more Inclusive Claremont

Down a long walkway that leads to a basement meeting room at Pomona College, a group of Claremonters met with one unifying mission—to increase affordable housing in the city.

Inclusive Claremont, a coalition of students from the Claremont Colleges and members of the community, are working together to change the city’s inclusionary housing requirement and to advocate for more space for low-income residents in the City of Trees.

Evie Kaufman, an environmental analysis major at Scripps College, got involved with Inclusive Claremont through another progressive student-led group, the College Community Action Network (CCAN). 

“I’ve always been concerned with housing, housing visibility and the philosophy that everybody deserves a pretty home because I’m very interested in architecture,” she said. “I just think it’s a human right for people to be able to live places.”

Isaac Cui, a politics and physics major at Pomona College, got involved after reading more about the affordable housing crisis while a part of CCAN.

“I sort of felt this is a moral imperative that we have to get involved in,” Mr. Cui said. “You’re seeing the effects of this both across California and also in our own communities.”

California is at a precipice when it comes to affordable housing. Rents have ballooned in Los Angeles County, and with it, the cost of living. The number of homeless people in the county has risen steadily, despite two measures intended to alleviate it passing.

Just this month, the state passed Assembly Bill 1482, which forbids landlords from raising rents more than five percent plus inflation in a single year.

In Los Angeles County, a single person could make up to $58,450 a year and still qualify as low-income, according to statistics from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Policy Development and Research. Very low-income residents could make up to $36,550 a year.

In Claremont, the majority of available rental properties on sites like Zillow.com are single-family homes in the $2,000 to $3,000 a month range, well outside the realm of affordability for lower-income people. Existing affordable housing communities like Courier Place have years-long waitlists.

Claremont has its own inclusionary housing requirement for all new developments—a choice between 15 percent moderate-income level housing or 10 percent low income, but there is no requirement in Claremont to build very-low or extremely-low income level housing.

Ms. Kaufman said the city of Claremont needs to do more, and that means creating housing for lower income people while also increasing the percentage of affordable housing in new developments.

“We want 20 or 30 percent, something that will actually aid in this crisis,” she said.

Mr. Cui looks to the Real Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA), which requires cities to show the state they have room to build a specific allocation of housing units based on income level. One solution he proposed was to anchor Claremont’s inclusionary housing requirement to the RHNA numbers.

“The proportion might say 15 percent set aside for affordable units, and from there, what’s the percentage of low, very low, extremely low,” Mr. Cui said.

One opportunity for more affordable housing is Village South, the future southerly expansion of the Claremont Village. The environmental impact report is still months away from completion, but there has already been heated debate about density, with some longtime residents balking at the number of residential units the development could have.

Recently, the city lowered the maximum number of units at Village South from 1,140 to between 800-900 after public outcry.

Ms. Kaufman noted if Claremont were to avoid creating more housing stock, people depending on that housing could be left out. She also said a denser residential development in Village South wouldn’t be changing Claremont as drastically as some people may think.

“I think it might just mean that the people who work here already and who engage with this community already just get to stay here, stably,” she said.

In Mr. Cui’s view, density aligns with Claremont’s values of equity, sustainability and inclusion by providing the opportunity for housing for everyone in the community. An example he cited were Claremont Colleges employees, many of which still can’t afford to live here.

“I think emphasizing to people that building more dense housing, building cheaper housing and more affordable housing would allow people like them, who are already members of the community, to actually be here full time,” Mr. Cui said.

Members of the group have canvassed throughout the summer in rental communities throughout Claremont to get a sense of what people in town were thinking.

“Generally speaking, all of the renters we talked to need to have their rent stop going up, need to be able to afford to live here in the first place, need to have a house to keep their kid in for more than four years before having to move,” Ms. Kaufman said, later noting that many of these renters don’t have the time to speak at city hall.

Mr. Cui said a number of renters talked about one day owning a home in Claremont, but felt it wasn’t possible. Many were longtime residents who wanted to stay in the city.

“I think there’s a sense among some people in the community that people who are renters are transient, and what we found is that’s really not true,” he said. “A lot of people have been here for a really long time and have been continually renting.”

Some of the renters the group talked to attended the meeting on Sunday. The meeting had up to 20 people, with a good mix of students and older members of the community.

The group went over the meeting’s agenda and shared personal stories about being renters in the city. One person at the meeting revealed she was spending 75 percent of her income on housing alone.

In the future, the group will keep going to city council and commission meetings, as well as reach out through op-eds in the COURIER and continually meeting with city leaders and developers.

They also want to put a human face to the issue through a “Humans of Claremont” series that showcases the day-to-day lives of local renters.

For Ms. Kaufman, seeing community members at the meeting was a relief, because “I want them in the room more than anybody.”

“The people who we want to work with are here and they live here, this is their community,” she said. “And this is just another way they’re getting involved with their community.”

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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