Cathie Anderson: Sacramento housing agency invests in ending crime, neglect in Norcade Circle

Fortified with $32 million of your federal tax dollars, La Shelle Dozier and the staff at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency went to work on rejuvenating Norcade Circle off Folsom Boulevard, just south of Highway 50.

“When you … have a lot of absentee landlords who are really not investing in their properties, then all the other problems come along with that,” said Dozier, SHRA’s executive director. “They’re really not screening their tenants very well, so there’s a lot of crime. They don’t keep their properties up or invest in the neighborhood. That’s kind of the situation that had occurred in Norcade Circle.”

In 2010, SHRA literally bought into Norcade Circle, taking ownership in three fourplexes, and offering favorable financing terms to an experienced developer, EPO Development, which purchased 10 other fourplexes along the crescent-shaped street.

“The strategy was to gain more of the units under one property owner’s control, so that then you could really influence what was happening through the homeowners association,” Dozier said. “In this particular situation, the homeowners association had really kind of ceased to operate effectively.”

Together, the agency and the developer set aside space for a community room in one of the buildings. They also got other homeowners to agree to upgrade standards for home improvement, fine landlords who weren’t holding problem tenants to the covenants of their leases, prod owners to comply with building codes, and use funds from the association’s fees to spruce up the landscaping. Crime reports in the neighborhood dropped by 81 percent between 2010 and 2012, the year construction began.

Not-so-big payback

Even government bureaucrats know the pain of dealing with red tape.

At one point, as SHRA was in the midst of transforming Norcade Circle and a portion of Lerwick Road near Watt Avenue and Auburn Boulevard, Dozier received a scathing rebuke from the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They believed that the agency over-improved the units,” Dozier said, “and I think $1.1 million was their initial ask, in terms of money that they thought should be repaid. We disputed those findings immediately. … It took over a year going back and forth with them. Basically, they were saying we did not administer the funds properly because we over-improved the properties.”

SHRA had spent $500,000 on improving each unit, far more than the $100,000 the IG’s office felt was more reasonable. Christine Weichert, assistant director at SHRA, explained: “When we get financing … for this type of renovation work, we make sure that the useful life of all the major systems in the building is a minimum of 15 years. It’s usually much longer. In the case of these properties, some of them had severe damage, because there were squatters in the unit, so it was a matter of getting the building down to the studs. Everything was removed. In all cases, all the roofs were replaced, the air conditioners, the heating systems. The kitchens were completely remodeled.”

When the lengthy negotiations concluded, SHRA’s Dozier agreed to repay two administrative fees totaling about $131,000, not because federal dollars couldn’t be used for them but because they had been charged to the wrong accounts.

Still in business

Staffers at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency still run into people who think their agency is in the process of shutting down.

Yes, the state Legislature abolished redevelopment agencies a couple years ago, Dozier said, but SHRA remains in place as a housing authority.

“We run the housing choice voucher program, also known as Section 8, for the city and county,” she explained. “Over 11,000 families participate in that program. We also are the owner and operator of public housing throughout the city and county. We’re probably the largest public landlord, I’m sure, in terms of operating housing. There’s over 3,300 units that we own and operate, and they’re everything from huge complexes of over 300 units down to single family homes and everything in between – duplexes, tri-plexes.”

About 90 percent of Dozier’s $169.6 million budget comes from the federal government, and those dollars get funneled right into the local economy.

“Eleven thousand families equates to a little bit over $100 million of federal funding that we receive to subsidize their rental assistance throughout the city and county,” she said, “and on average, each month we send out checks to landlords in the tune of $8 million, and most of them are not large complexes. Most of them are people who may own one unit or just a few units.”

And, when Dozier can assist a developer with bond financing to build affordable housing, she said, that initially means jobs for carpenters, electricians, plumbers and then later for property managers, maintenance people, accountants and others in the service industry.