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Boutique Hotels, Floods, Fires, and the Scramble for What’s Left

Hannah Petrie: I couldn’t call myself an affordable housing advocate if I became a supplier of short-term rentals. If we ever do soup up the carriage house it will be so someone can call it home.

Like I’ve said, as Americans we are united in our compulsion to hustle for income in whatever way we can. For many, the option to generate funds via airbnb is a no-brainer. In my little wild west town of Altadena, California, I see there are currently over 140 short-term rentals available. My husband and I have a “carriage house” behind our 1926 Janes Cottage that, with a little love to the tune of $10 – 12 K, could shake our own moneymaker.

Pasadena Affordable Housing

Boutique Hotels, Floods, Fires, and the Scramble for What’s Left—Hannah Petrie

I couldn’t call myself an affordable housing advocate if I became a supplier of short-term rentals. If we ever do soup up the carriage house it will be so someone can call it home.

But, it’s like the true environmentalists say to the mammal-eaters: you can’t call yourself an environmentalist if you partake in red meat. I couldn’t call myself an affordable housing advocate if I became a supplier of short-term rentals. If we ever do soup up the carriage house it will be so someone can call it home.

I recently commented to Rabbi Jonathan Klein, the leader of CLUE-LA, that organizing for affordable housing is like wrestling an octopus. There are so many subheadings of affordable housing advocacy (from countering municipal efforts to criminalize homelessness to dried-up public funding to airbnb and elite hotel developments decimating an already inadequate affordable housing stock . . . the list goes on), and our quickly changing world is ratcheting up the pressure on all of them.

I told the rabbi that the need for affordable housing is so acute that perhaps it could unite activists in a large urban area like LA County. With enough people organized we could pin that octopus.

In the latest match in Pasadena, the octopus won handily. Last week, the City Council unanimously voted to move ahead with the huge Kimpton Hotel project that will turn the historic YWCA building adjacent to City Hall into a 179-room luxury boutique hotel. The project involves adding an entirely new building, permanently altering the prominent view of the Jackie Robinson statues.

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This week local activists are shaking their heads in regret around the lack of organized opposition that led to this loss. The environmentalists dissented en masse but it wasn’t enough – killing this vote required the cooperation of a gaggle of activist coalitions, too many of which operate in silos (the workers’ rights, environmental, and affordable housing activists all needed to link arms on this one).

It is a loss of several things: it could have been a wonderful affordable housing project (in fact, it might be illegal in California to have usurped this surplus property to a private corporation before making it available for affordable housing – the matter is being studied and may result in a law suit); the deal could have negotiated labor peace (good jobs) for its workers instead of more crappy low-wage ones (and these new workers will also have to somehow find an affordable place to live in or near Pasadena – buena suerte!); it is a loss of green space; it is a further loss of the soul of a Pasadena that once valued socio-economic diversity. How fitting that the Robinson statues will be eclipsed by this monstrosity.

The City Council seems insatiable in its fervor for more hotels and elite accommodations in Pasadena. And yet, part of our quickly changing world includes vast numbers of people who suddenly find themselves homeless, be that a result of flood or fire. The contrast is stunning: droves of devastated lives in Louisiana and parts of California and the Pasadena City Council gleefully voting in a boutique hotel project in a building that used to serve the common good values for which the YW/MCA is known. This should not compute.

None of us are immune to the hustle for dollarage – one reason airbnb has been such a boon is because home-owners are strapped for cash, and many are enabled to keep their house and their toe-hold in the middle class by offering short-term rentals. While I don’t begrudge their predicament, I can’t help but look at the bigger picture here.

As resources become more scarce in a climate-change world (are literally rotted to the ground or burned up), there is a mass “scramble for what’s left” because most people are not of the elite class. But the elite sure are taking up a lot of space.

Partisan Gridlock v Functioning Democracy

Until next time, Do the Hustle!

Rev. Hannah hustlin’ Hope! Petrie
Justice Hustle