What’s going on with Larkin Place? Legal troubles loom for Claremont over affordable housing initiative

An empty lot with patches of weeds, grass, and trees dispersed within the plot of land.
The Larkin Place housing development has split opinion among Claremont residents even before the beginning of its construction. (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

Throughout Claremont’s residential areas, many homes have signs on their front lawns reflecting both support and opposition for Larkin Place, a proposed affordable housing development for vulnerable populations in the city.

Echoing some residents’ opposition to the project, Claremont’s City Council voted on June 28 to block some of Larkin Place’s proposed architectural features. As a result, Claremont now faces a litigation threat from California’s attorney general if the city does not move to approve the housing development by Wednesday or come up with proof that it does not meet certain public health standards. 

Located at 731 Harrison Avenue and adjacent to Larkin Park, Larkin Place is the result of a partnership between the City of Claremont, the retirement community of Pilgrim Place and Jamboree Housing Corporation, a nonprofit affordable housing developer with a long history in Southern California.

When Pilgrim Place sold the land to Jamboree, they specified that it should be used to help homeless and disabled people, according to Gene Boutilier, a Claremont resident and member of Pilgrim Place’s governing board. 

Following Pilgrim Place’s specifications, Jamboree’s proposed development will have 32 apartment homes to serve as permanent supportive housing for people who earn no more than 30% of the area median income, which is about $11,800 for an individual in Claremont. Residents will include individuals and couples with special needs who have previously been houseless, or at a higher risk of homelessness, according to Jamboree’s website. 

In addition, the development will feature onsite program coordinators to help residents access local services such as career counseling, community education and daycare, with the eventual goal being for them to become stable, thriving members of the community. 

Much like other cities in Southern California, Claremont has not met affordable housing requirements as specified by California’s Housing Elements law

Every eight years, California creates a Regional Housing Needs Assessment plan, which identifies the amount of housing for different income levels each municipality needs to build for different income levels

Since 2006, no new developments in Claremont have included housing in the low- income category, according to Claremont’s Housing Elements Report

Claremont’s lack of affordable housing has been noticed by people outside the city, according to  Zachary Courser, a board member of Housing Claremont which is a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing and homeless services. 

The Southern California News Group, which compiles a report card that ranks jurisdictions on how well they meet state-mandated housing goals, gave Claremont a D+ in their most recent ranking.

Despite California’s requirement that Claremont build 866 units of housing for ‘low’ or ‘very low’ income residents by 2029, the city council voted 3-2 in favor of prohibiting Jamboree from accessing a nearby parking lot, otherwise known as an easement. The June 30 vote, however, went against Jamboree’s preferred site plan. 

The decision also rejected a grant of $700,000 in improvements to the infrastructure of Larkin Park.

Courser said that the denial of the easement will not stop Larkin Place from being built because it is a by-right project.

Because the project is “by-right,” the city can only apply objective standards, such as a height limit, rather than subjective measures, such as whether the development is “compatible” with the surrounding neighborhood, according to the Claremont Courier.

“As long as the [Larkin Place] development follows building laws, it’s allowed,” said Courser, who is also a professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. 

However, the denial of the easement could have the potential to make the housing less agreeable to future residents by forcing Jamboree to change features of the building plan, according to Courser. 

In response to the outcome of the June 30 meeting, the California Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) sent a letter to the city of Claremont on Aug. 12, stating that the Claremont City Council violated the Housing Accountability Act by denying the easement.

The City of Claremont has until Wednesday to write a response letter to DHCD. The response letter must include “a specific plan and timeline for corrective action that allows the Project to move forward with its plans without further delay or demonstrate that legally sufficient health and safety findings were made pursuant to Government Code,” according to DHCD

As the legal back and forth between Claremont’s City Council and DHCD continues, local opinions about Larkin Place remain divided. Some residents, like Eileen Chen, are concerned with the potential effects on community safety. Chen stated her opposition due to the presence of students in the surrounding area, especially during after-school hours.

As the project currently stands, residents will be placed in Larkin Place through Los Angeles County’s Coordinated Entry System (CES), which is a list that connects individuals experiencing homelessness to available resources, according to their website.

Chen critiqued Larkin Place because future residents might not necessarily come from Claremont. 

“It’s a good idea to set up a new home for the homeless,” Chen said. “But just for our local homeless and not for the whole of Los Angeles.”

CES accounts for where people call home when determining permanent supportive housing, according to Housing Claremont’s website. 

The main organized opposition to Larkin Place is Safe and Transparent Claremont, an advocacy group of residents and concerned citizens, according to its website. Safe and Transparent Claremont did not respond to TSL’s request for comment.

Other residents see Larkin Place as providing a safe space where at-risk populations can access needed help. To Elizabeth Moore, homeless people should not be blamed for their lack of housing, and Larkin Place would provide a sense of stability to unhoused people who are already in Claremont.

“I just wish people would stop assuming people who have addictions and people that have mental illnesses are somehow dangerous and should not be taken care of,” Moore said. “Building Larkin Place does not put me in danger. In fact, I’m probably more in danger if we have people who are having difficulties and can’t get any help and become desperate.”

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