Affordable housing planned for north Sacramento. But it’s facing neighborhood opposition

A San Diego developer plans to build a 128-unit affordable housing apartment complex in north Sacramento, but a group of neighborhood associations and business owners have filed documents to challenge it.

City of Sacramento staff last month approved the construction of two four-story apartment buildings at the so-called Lumberjack site — a long boarded-up facility on Arden Way near Evergreen Street.

Although Sacramento desperately needs more affordable housing, opponents fear the apartments will continue a trend of concentrating low-income and homeless individuals in north Sacramento instead of more affluent areas like East Sacramento and Land Park. The site is less than two miles from a warehouse on Railroad Drive where the city placed its first large homeless shelter.

“Once again, the developer indicates that North Sacramento — a segregated, underdeveloped district — is the best place for low income housing and homeless shelters,” reads a letter submitted to the city last week to challenge the project, signed by 17 people from neighborhood associations in Woodlake, Dixieanne, Ben Ali and Del Paso Heights, along with several north Sacramento business owners and local watchdog group Eye on Sacramento.

Councilman Allen Warren, who represents the area, said although the project is considered “affordable housing,” it will mostly attract working class people.

“You’re talking about teachers, young professionals, people that make 30 or 40 or $50,000 a year,” Warren said. “I think the fact that they term it ‘affordable housing’ suggests it’s some type of dump. They’re investing millions of dollars in an area that’s been a steady source of illegal dumping and vagrants.”

The apartments will be available to people who make between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income — between $25,000 and $50,000 annually for a family of four, said Lisa Huff of San Diego-based Community HousingWorks, the project developer. Federal Housing Choice vouchers, formerly called Section 8 vouchers, will be accepted, Huff said.

The opposition group also is raising concerns that city staff did not send the project to the City Council for consideration, which would have given the public an opportunity to comment, and that it was exempted from California Environmental Quality Act review.

“The city’s process lacked transparency,” said Nancy Kitz of Eye on Sacramento “Under CEQA, local government is charged with the important task of determining whether and how a project should be approved and must exercise its own best judgment to balance a variety of public objectives, including economic, environmental, and social factors. When the agency does so, however, it must be clear and transparent about the balance it has struck. The City never solicited public comment on any CEQA matters.”

The project did not require zoning changes, so it didn’t need to go to the Planning Commission or City Council, said Bruce Monighan, the city’s urban design manager. City staff was not required to post public notices about the project, but did so in the interest of transparency, Monighan said.

The developer plans to ask for city funding for the project, so the City Council will likely discuss the project at some point, Warren said.

The group is also complaining that the project’s design, which includes 107 parking spots, will encourage residents to drive instead of using more sustainable transportation methods such as light rail or biking. The site is next to the Royal Oaks light rail station.

“It is unfortunate that with its strategic location near extensive public transit infrastructure and eclectic mix of uses, the proposed project fails to achieve any semblance of a Transit Oriented Development,” the letter read.

The site is included in the Swanston Station Transit Village Specific Plan, which the City Council approved in 2011. That plan sought to “transform an underutilized light rail station into an active, mixed-use transit village,” and “attract housing, employment and shopping to the area,” its introduction read. At the time, a residential and retail development was planned at the site, developed by New Faze Development, which Warren founded. Neighbors favored that project because it included retail.

Warren said retail is often built only after an area has enough housing.

“You’re going to start seeing a more vibrant, walkable community, with more options for higher-end retail and more restaurants and more retailers and pubs, but you have to have housing,” Warren said. “That really is the driver.”

Warren said he will look into the issues opponents are raising, but that affordable housing is greatly needed in the city and “District 2 will do its part.”

The city’s design director is reviewing the group’s challenge and will decide whether to send the project back to staff for reconsideration. There is no time limit for when that decision will be made and the decision cannot be appealed, Monighan said.

The developer plans to start construction in December 2020, Huff said.

Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.