Sacramento mayor lands private dollars toward housing plan for homeless people

Mayor Darrell Steinberg attends his first City Council meeting on Jan. 5. He has made transparency a top priority and supports a beefed-up ethics code.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg attends his first City Council meeting on Jan. 5. He has made transparency a top priority and supports a beefed-up ethics code. aseng@sacbee.com

Bolstering his attempt to use federal affordable housing vouchers to shelter Sacramento’s homeless, Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced a partnership with Sutter Health at Tuesday night’s Sacramento City Council meeting that could provide $20 million in funding to strengthen his proposal - and possibly double that if the city lands federal dollars.

Steinberg said Monday night that Sutter Health has promised up to $5 million over three years and has committed to help fundraising for an additional $5 million from private entities for homeless services in Sacramento – if the city and county move forward with the mayor’s plan to prioritize federal housing vouchers for homeless people.

“It’s all about the energy,” said Keri Thomas, Sutter Health Valley Area’s director of community and government relations. “Absolutely, should those units come available, we are going to be at the table to get those services.”

Steinberg is also asking the City Council to allocate $5 million in unspent general fund money available in this year’s budget to homeless services and suggest that the county commit to $5 million in funding if the proposal moves forward.

Steinberg also announced that Sacramento will apply for matching dollars on the $20 million from a federal pilot program that is exploring better ways to target Medicare money at difficult and high-use populations such as homeless people, potentially raising the available funds to nearly $40 million.

The pilot program is normally not one that cities can apply for without a county or other partner. Sacramento County is not applying for the money, Steinberg said, but on Tuesday the state gave the go-ahead for the city to apply on its own, making it the only city in California to do so. Applications are due March 1.

All of the funding was discussed as part of a presentation on homelessness at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

If all of the $20 million materializes, Steinberg envisions that it would be used to provide services such as mental-health counseling to the recipients of federal affordable housing subsidies during a two-year program.

Those so-called “wraparound” services are considered a critical component in homeless housing programs, providing the training, support and treatment that many chronically homeless people require to be successful in housing, he said.

Combining those services with permanent housing instead of shelters or temporary housing is known as a “housing-first” approach. It is currently favored by the federal government and many housing advocates, though some critics don’t like its “no-barrier” strategy that provides housing regardless of potential problems such as addiction or mental illness.

Darryl Rutherford of the Sacramento Housing Alliance said that his organization supports the housing-first model because, “it’s really been shown to be very successful when you get people sheltered … especially with the wraparound services.”

Steinberg has long championed the housing-first model. In recent weeks, he has suggested prioritizing homeless people in the queue for those waiting to receive federal affordable housing subsidies.

The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency manages those subsidies and prioritizes low-income residents, the disabled and the elderly, among other groups. There are an estimated 70,000 households on the waiting list in Sacramento County for about 910 spots that open up annually.

The City Council recently voted to give 200 slots in local public housing to homeless people in the next two years. Steinberg has asked the county to allocate 1,200 rent vouchers that are under the shared control of the city and county to homeless people and those at an imminent risk of homelessness in coming years.

The proposal was discussed at a recent joint meeting of the City Council and the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors funds most homeless services in the area, and it was unclear during the meeting if Steinberg’s proposal had the board’s support. The board agreed to have county staff examine a number of homeless proposals and report back in March.

SHRA Executive Director La Shelle Dozier said her agency is moving forward on outreach to affected people and others involved in affordable housing to notify them of the proposed change and to gather feedback. Dozier called the proposed additional funding from the mayor “a great opportunity.”

“I applaud the mayor in his ability to bring these resources to the table,” Dozier said. “We support looking at new ways to try to engage the community to find solutions.”

The Sutter funds are part of an ongoing local initiative started in 2015 that pledged up to $20 million in matching funds to help local governments deal with homelessness. Sutter has already given grants to Placer and Yolo counties and the cities of Davis and Roseville. Last September, Sutter gave the city of Sacramento $433,000 to increase services at its Salvation Army shelter.

The city estimates that providing necessary wraparound services for the initial 800 participants of the program would cost between $4,100 and $7,800 per household, for a total of almost $6 million in the first year. As more people are added to the program, that cost would increase to $9 million in the second year.

About $890,000 in funding would also be allocated on an annual basis to provide additional rent incentives to landlords to accept the housing vouchers. Sacramento has a tight rental housing market and recipients of vouchers, many of whom have past evictions or troubled credit histories, often have a hard time finding a landlord willing to rent to them.

City homeless services coordinator Emily Halcon said landlords could be given extra funds on top of the rental vouchers to encourage accepting them. The vouchers pay $870 a month for a one-bedroom, and up to $1,935 for a four-bedroom, according to SHRA.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa

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