A plan by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg to steer affordable housing vouchers to homeless people won a partial endorsement this week from the local government agency that oversees federal housing money.
The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency issued a report Monday recommending that 150 housing vouchers be reserved for homeless people for each of the next three years.
The SHRA recommendation fell short of Steinberg’s initial request, but the mayor called it a “strong start” and a “paradigm shift” that could allow more subsidized units to be reserved for homeless people in the future.
The SHRA recommendation also sets aside some vouchers – about 375 over three years – to help finance new permanent supportive housing projects, which provide onsite services such as addiction treatment and mental health services. Funding for new permanent supportive housing often requires the developer have vouchers dedicated to the project before construction or renovation can start. Those vouchers wouldn’t immediately house people, but would be an investment in future units exclusively for homeless occupants, said SHRA executive director LaShelle Dozier.
If all of the SHRA recommendations materialize, the Sacramento region could see an increase of 1,455 housing units for homeless people in the next few years.
The SHRA plan gives Steinberg about half of the subsidy vouchers he initially wanted, with the remainder going to those on existing wait lists.
There are about 70,000 households waiting for one of the 12,000 vouchers in Sacramento, mainly elderly, disabled and single-parent families, said Dozier. The voucher program pays $870 a month for a one-bedroom, and up to $1,935 for a four-bedroom directly to local landlords. Recipients of the subsidy must find landlords willing to accept the vouchers, which can be challenging in Sacramento’s tight rental market, Dozier said.
She said that federal officials cautioned her that moving all available vouchers to the homeless population could be a “problem” and negatively impact blacks, Asians and families with children already in line for one of the coveted spots.
Dozier said the split of vouchers between the existing wait list and homeless populations “strikes a really good balance.”
The city also previously allocated 480 units in public housing complexes over the next three years to homeless people. Another 100 vouchers over three years might go to homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 24 if SHRA wins a Department of Education grant. It is currently a finalist, said SHRA spokeswoman Angela Jones.
Whether these ambitious plans will actually happen depends on uncertain federal funding. SHRA publicly disclosed last week that it had been hit with a federal budget cut of $2.5 million for 2017, which could affect its ability to give out vouchers during the second half of this year. Dozier said the agency has reserves to operate the program through June. But if Congress doesn’t restore funding, SHRA might be forced to stop issuing new vouchers this summer, she said. Those already using vouchers would likely not be affected.
The Trump administration is also expected to release a proposed budget Thursday for 2018 – the year Steinberg’s plan would likely go into effect. That budget could include even more drastic cuts for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The New York Times Wednesday reported that the Trump budget would entirely eliminate $3 billion in HUD Community Development Block Grants.
SHRA received $9.5 million in Community Block Grant Funding in 2017. It used that money for anti-poverty programs, including Meals on Wheels, said Jones.
Block grants have also funded a number of construction projects, including $250,000 for the Colonial Heights library, $550,000 for the Rio Linda Community Center and $1.5 million for Old Florin Town Phase 2 street improvements. The agency’s annual report said it also used block grants as collateral on financing for the Del Paso Nuevo project.
Steinberg said that he addressed the 2018 budget issue with federal HUD officials at a meeting in Washington, D.C. this week, where he traveled with a group of local labor and business leaders. Steinberg said federal officials told him that cuts to affordable housing funds in the Trump budget could be offset in part by additional funds for infrastructure, which might also allow for housing construction, and that agency officials encouraged moving ahead “aggressively.”
The voucher proposal was presented at an SHRA meeting on Wednesday night. It will be discussed by the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors and the City Council at their respective meetings on March 21.
Supervisor Phil Serna said the SHRA plan showed “holistic thoughtfulness,” but the county is expected to consider a wide variety of possible plans to address homelessness in its next budget, including a triage center.
A joint meeting on homelessness between the City Council and Board of Supervisors scheduled for March 28 has been canceled.