Nearly one-quarter of Pasadena’s African American residents left the city in the last 10 years, replaced mostly by Asians and Pacific Islanders, according to 2010 Census figures.
A lack of affordable housing and shifts in the real estate market spurred black families to leave town, according to observers, while Asian families from around the San Gabriel Valley opted for a Pasadena address.
The shift is part of a larger trend of black families leaving communities where they’ve long had a presence, said Dowell Myers, professor of urban planning and demography at USC.
Other cities with entrenched black populations, including Inglewood and Compton, also saw the number of black residents decline, Myers said. That happened even as California gained more than 3,000 African American homeowners and 39,000 renters since 2000, according to the census.
The greatest reduction in African Americans in Pasadena was among children under 10 and adults in their 30s.
“It’s renters that are leaving — not homeowners, who are mostly older African Americans,” Myers said. “Younger people may be going into areas like Lancaster, Palmdale or Moreno Valley.”
Others agreed that a lack of affordable housing in Pasadena is forcing African American families to move to less expensive areas.
Michelle White, executive director of the Pasadena nonprofit Affordable Housing Services, said recent affordable projects have been designed to help the homeless or the near-homeless at the expense of other families.
“We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul,” White said. “There are more than 20,000 low-income [people] that are in need of affordable housing. Typically, blacks are highly represented in that number.”
White listed several ways the city could have done more for families. For example, she said, a proposed ordinance to allow homeowners in Pasadena to have two units on a single lot has not gained traction at City Hall. In addition, a proposal for 75 units at the former Desiderio Army Reserve Center gave way to a nine-unit Habitat for Humanity project.
In the past 10 years the city has built 998 affordable units, 579 very low income, 84 low income and 335 moderate income, according to Pasadena Housing Department Senior Project Manager Jim Wong.
Wong said government budget shortfalls will make it more difficult for cities to meet affordable housing goals.
“Right now the federal government is cutting back on affordable housing programs, and in California there’s legislation on the books that would eliminate redevelopment housing,” Wong said. “I don’t think the city is going to be fully meeting its needs, certainly not in the very near future.”
Bill Huang, housing director for the city, said Pasadena is not alone. “No city in the country is meeting their affordable housing needs; the resources aren't there,” he said. “Pasadena, compared to other cities, is ahead of the game.”
Paul Robinson, assistant professor at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science who contributed a chapter on African American exodus in the 2010 book “Black Los Angeles,” said families took advantage of the rapidly rising real estate prices up until 2007 and sold their homes.
Joe Brown, president of the Pasadena chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, said there is cause for concern.
“Some will say it’s gentrification, others will say there’s no affordable housing, and some will say a particular group is not wanted in the city,” Brown said. “Any name we use, the result is the same.
“As the population of African Americans goes, so do the churches, so do the organizations.”
Councilman Chris Holden said the black community, with its deep ties to the region and history in Pasadena, will remain strong.
“There may not be as many, but in terms of voice and energy, they will remain the same,” he said.