Exclusive: Here’s the Sacramento site that could house 700 people in tents, cabins, tiny homes

Sacramento Councilman Allen Warren has identified a vacant lot in the Noralto section of north Sacramento for a campus to house up to 700 people. The property, at the corner of Edgewater Road and Lampasas Avenue, is the former site of the Harmon Johnson Elementary School.

Renewal Village would include 200 tents with services for homeless people that would stay erected for two years, Warren said. The village would also house up to 500 additional formerly homeless or low-income people in cabins, tiny homes, and single-family homes.

Warren’s idea is a new homeless solution for the city, which has mainly focused on opening large shelters with services, under the leadership of Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

When Warren showed the site to a group of city officials and community leaders Friday, the grassy field was mostly deserted, except for a few piles of trash, a couple couches and a group of tents lining the canal at the edge of the property, just feet from a neighborhood.

“People in this community have homeless people living behind their homes right now,” Warren said. “This is not a place that would bring down a community. This would really help elevate it.”

The Twin Rivers Unified School District owns the eight-acre parcel and is actively trying to sell it, said Bill McGuire, a deputy superintendent.

The district moved the elementary school from the site, next to a PG&E underground natural gas storage facility, after the deadly San Bruno gas line explosion in 2010.

For the last two years, the district leased the property to the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, which was using it to store equipment, McGuire said. In exchange, SAFCA built a fence around the property.

The city previously expressed interest in buying a part of the site for a sewer pump station, but the district wants to sell the entire property, McGuire said. The property is valued at about $440,000, according to a 2017 appraisal report from the district.

The site would also need to be paved and have utilities installed. There are utilities underground in place from the school, but those would need to be replaced for a new project, McGuire said.

Warren is asking city and Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency staff to explore if the site would work for the project, and the project would require City Council approval, he said. If the site doesn’t work, Warren is also proposing the PG&E-owned site next to it.

What will the shelter project cost?

It’s unclear how much the project would cost. SHRA estimates 100 tents would cost about $5.4 million to construct and operate with services for two years, according to a recent report.

Kerrin West, of First Step Communities, the organization working on the proposal, said it would cost less than $3 million.

Modesto’s “tent city” housing about 420 people is expected to cost about $1.6 million. That figure does not include services provided. A Reno company called Qamp donated hundreds of 10-foot-by-10-foot blue and white tents for that project.

The city of Sacramento has already spent most of its available homeless funding to open a shelter at Capitol Park hotel downtown, as well as shelters in Meadowview and under the W/X freeway, set to open in the coming months. Those shelters will cost about $10 million each to construct and operate for two years. The city expects about $37 million in new state and private funding in the next six months, Steinberg has said.

Homeless people would stay in the tents for an average of eight months before moving to more permanent housing, Warren said. During the two years, about 600 people could cycle through staying in the tents.

Renewal Village would include a health clinic staffed by Wellspace, a clubhouse, dining hall, dog park, community garden and playground for children, Warren said. There would also be a job training site and an area where people could safely sleep in cars.

“The facilities that would be here would allow people to get job training skills that would help them to get better forms of employment or get them employed and hopefully with that comes an increased lifestyle for them too,” Warren said.

Warren plans to host a series of community meetings to get public input on the idea.

“This project is made to have a real impact and that’s what we want to do,” Warren said.

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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.