As far as aging public housing projects go, Sacramento's Alder Grove and Marina Vista neighborhoods are in good shape stable and well-kept, with relatively little crime.
But Sacramento housing officials say the time has come for the tree-shaded rows of World War II-era brick buildings to come down.
Following national trends, Sacramento is proposing to demolish the two neighborhoods at the west end of Broadway and build in their place a more urban community whose residents have a range of incomes.
The tentative plan is to let all or most of the 2,500 residents return to live in newer housing, but with a major twist.
Their new apartments would be mixed in with market-rate apartments for middle-income wage earners, and even some privately owned town houses or other units.
If it happens, the demolition and redo would represent the biggest change in Sacramento public housing in 70 years, since the first apartments were built just south of Broadway along Muir Way alongside the Old City Cemetery.
That project, Alder Grove, and Marina Vista, a sister site a few blocks southwest, are the two largest government-owned low-income housing projects in the region, containing one fourth of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency's 3,000 low-income housing units. They were previously called New Helvetia and Seavey Circle.
"This is a significant project," said City Councilman Rob Fong, who represents the area. "I've been captivated by this possibility."
Fong has been meeting over the last two years with housing officials, school district officials, U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui and others to lay the groundwork.
On Tuesday, the concept could hit a major milestone. SHRA officials are expected to ask the City Council to give them the green light to begin formal negotiations with a private development group in hopes of signing that company on to be the project's master developer.
Some neighbors and housing advocates, however, are calling on the city to slow down, saying they want to have the chance to offer input first.
"We heard about this at the last minute," said Luree Stetson of the nearby Upper Land Park neighborhood group. "Trust is definitely a problem."
When asked by The Bee this week, several residents of Alder Grove said no one told them the city is considering razing their apartments.
"This is the first I've heard of it," said Kathy Madrigal, 55, who has lived at Alder Grove for four years. She said she's not necessarily opposed to the idea, but said, "it sounds like a fantasy."
Nearly two-thirds of residents in the two projects are female, and more than 40 percent are children. Slightly more than half are African American.
Plans not disclosed
Some City Hall officials also said SHRA hasn't given them enough information about what the preferred developer is proposing to build, or what the runner-up companies had in mind.
An SHRA selection committee recently reviewed and ranked four applications and is recommending the council choose a team headed by Related Companies of California, part of a national group that builds low-incoming housing. That team also includes Mercy Housing of California and Regis Homes.
During its selection process, SHRA asked the four applicants to offer a general concept for redeveloping the 70-acre site.
SHRA officials have declined to share those responses with the City Council, saying they don't believe they legally are allowed to at this point.
Lydia Tan, an official with Related Companies, the recommended developer, said it is too early in the process to lay out a plan and that there is time for plenty of community input.
SHRA, a government agency, handles public housing programs for the city and county of Sacramento. It owns and manages the 751-unit Alder Grove and Marina Vista housing projects. The City Council acts as the formal, decision-making board for SHRA.
Assistant City Manager John Dangberg said the lack of information from SHRA about the proposals puts the council and city staff in a tough position.
"It would be very difficult for me to recommend to the council they should move forward, simply because we haven't seen the proposals," Dangberg said. Without knowing what each applicant's vision is or other pertinent information, "we have no basis for making a recommendation."
SHRA officials also have expressed concerns about the process. Some members of the agency's advisory commission said they feel the City Council has been pushing too hard to hurry the project. They said they would prefer to hold more public meetings before recommending a development team.
Fong, the area's City Council representative, had been trying to get a developer on board by this week, his last opportunity to vote prior to leaving the City Council.
But on Friday he said he now fears the council won't have adequate information Tuesday from SHRA about the applicants to make an "educated" choice on a development team.
"I don't think the city is going to be in a position to decide if the goals we have for the project could be met," he said.
Should the city move forward, the project will doubtless raise hopes and concerns, as similar developments have elsewhere.
Backed by federal housing dollars, local governments around the nation have knocked down aging housing projects and replaced them with scattered units for the poor. The idea is to integrate low-income residents into the larger community rather than keeping them isolated in islands of poverty.
Critics, while acknowledging that the new housing is often a vast improvement over the old, nonetheless have raised concerns that the number of new units often falls short of the number that were demolished.
Here in Sacramento, SHRA says it will require all 751 units to be replaced, and would like most of them to be on the same property.
Sacramento city officials say they're aiming to finance the project mainly with private money because federal, state and local housing funds have dwindled. Including market-rate housing in the project makes it more attractive to private developers, officials said.
Just a few blocks away, developer Ranch Capital of Southern California is already working on plans to replace the old Setzer wood processing plant with medium-density, multifamily housing for nearly 2,000 residents.
Ranch is also one of the four applicants vying to develop the Alder Grove and Marina Vista. Fong has said Ranch Capital could be a good choice, given that it can leverage all three sites for coordinated development.
Some residents of the public housing projects expressed concern upon hearing about the relocation plan. They wondered whether they would be forced to move to temporary housing when their apartments are knocked down, how long that displacement would last, and whether they are assured of moving back.
Maria Castenera, 72, a 12-year-resident, said she doesn't have any desire to move. "I'm very happy," she said, sweeping the sidewalk in front of her one-bedroom apartment. "I have good neighbors. Everything is OK."
National Low Income Housing Coalition official Ed Gramlich said some residents could get lost in the cracks if the relocation process isn't handled well.
"We welcome mixed-income housing," he said. "That is a laudable goal. But the devil is always in the details."
SHRA has already begun a similar planning process for its Twin Rivers housing complex near 12th Street and Richards Boulevard north of downtown. A private development team is working with housing authorities there on plans to renovate that community.