Less than a week after calling for a multibillion-dollar fund for infrastructure, arts and affordable housing, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg proposed Tuesday spending $21 million over the next three years to subsidize construction of hundreds of small homes to help shelter the city’s growing homeless population.
During the annual State of Downtown address at Memorial Auditorium, Steinberg said the city would ask for concepts from the development community to build up to 1,000 “efficient housing opportunities.” He proposed using hundreds of Section 8 public housing vouchers at the city’s disposal to “finance new construction (of the small homes) by providing a source of ongoing rental subsidy.” He said the law allows the city to use vouchers to help people cover rent at existing units or help finance new housing options.
Steinberg also called on the private sector to raise $20 million for housing and homeless shelters. He said that Sutter Health has agreed to donate $5 million to the cause if a matching $5 million is found.
The city will request information and concepts from developers next month for the small housing units, and Steinberg is asking that the City Council and Board of Supervisors provide funds in early summer. He said he will ask developers to partner with homeless service providers on their concepts.
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“Our minimum requirements for the homes: a secure roof, door, plumbing, electricity and dignity,” the mayor said. He added the homes could take on many forms, from 300-square-foot modular homes to “container units inside warehouses.”
He said the location of the new homes will have to be determined, but the more than 100 vacant parcels controlled by the city should be a starting point.
“It’s all in our grasp,” the mayor said. “Public funding, private funding, tangible goals, public accountability and a community commitment to whatever it takes to make this homeless problem better in Sacramento.”
Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness, said small homes “are a good solution as transitional housing,” but should not be counted on to provide long-term shelter. He said studies have shown that tiny homes can have damaging psychological impacts on residents, especially if the shelters are clustered in large groups away from natural spaces.
“To me, the most basic question is: would you want your mom living in a 300-square-foot house?” Erlenbusch said. “If the answer is no, then don’t do it, at least not on a permanent basis. It’s a great solution to get 1,000 people inside, to keep them safe and warm while they are transitioning to permanent housing. But as permanent housing? I don’t think so.”
At his State of the City address last week, Steinberg proposed a public equity fund that could be backed by a new sales tax or by the sale of city-owned property. With multiple studies showing that rents are climbing in Sacramento at a rate higher than any city its size in the nation, Steinberg has now indicated that affordable housing will be among his priorities for 2018.
Housing was a major theme of the State of Downtown event. Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, which runs the annual event, said just 235 housing units were built in the central city in 2017. Ault highlighted several key downtown development projects that should begin construction this year, including a complex at the corner of Eighth and K streets that includes both market rate and affordable housing.
“We must continue to focus on housing options for everyone,” Ault said. He said instead of building 235 new housing units in a year in the central city, “we should be building thousands” to keep up with an increasing demand.