City Beat

Sacramento public housing resident won’t let her home be left behind

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into the area north of downtown Sacramento, as seen in this 2012 aerial photograph of the early development in the Township 9 project, the downtown railyard and warehouses in the River District.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into the area north of downtown Sacramento, as seen in this 2012 aerial photograph of the early development in the Township 9 project, the downtown railyard and warehouses in the River District. Sacramento Bee file

The blocks of warehouses and toxic dirt north of downtown are going through a transformation.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into the area. Thousands of new residents will be living there in a few years. A huge hospital, a $150 million soccer stadium and a courthouse are in the works.

And DeCoe Gilmore made darn sure her neighborhood didn’t get left behind.

Gilmore lives in Twin Rivers, the city’s oldest public housing complex. Residents call it “The Dos” or “Dos Rios.” It’s a crammed collection of pastel homes near Richards Boulevard and North 12th Street that was built in 1940. If you drive into downtown from Highway 160, you pass right by it, probably without even knowing it’s there.

“There’s no reason to stop,” Gilmore said Friday morning. “We’re just an island out here.”

Two years ago, Gilmore and her neighbors started hearing that Twin Rivers’ 218 homes were going to be torn down. Gilmore jumped. She started asking questions and organizing her friends. When federal government officials started showing up to consider the neighborhood for a huge redevelopment grant, Gilmore came along on the tours.

And then word came last month: The city, county and Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency had been awarded a $30 million grant to overhaul Twin Rivers. The money will leverage more public and private investment. By the time the work is over, Twin Rivers will be home to more than 450 affordable and public housing units, along with 135 market-rate units. Construction should start within 18 months.

Why should you care about what happens inside a public housing complex most people zip past on their way to work? Because the city is trying to attract hundreds of new residents to its urban core. And because Twin Rivers is, as Gilmore said, “right at the beginning of the new downtown.”

“It looks like a concentration camp now, but we can’t afford to have an ugly Dos Rios,” Gilmore said.

Securing the grant was a huge focus for City Hall. Mayor Kevin Johnson led local housing officials to Washington, D.C., in May to pitch the Twin Rivers project to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. Johnson also met privately with the department director, Julian Castro.

Then, in August, HUD officials came to Sacramento, where Johnson led a presentation by local developers, the Sacramento Kings and Republic FC about his plans for downtown housing. A few weeks later, Johnson was holding a microphone at a press conference to announce that Sacramento had beaten out major cities around the country for the $30 million award.

One politician after another spoke that day. But Gilmore stole the show with a passionate defense of her neighborhood.

After all she’d done, Gilmore wasn’t going to back down now. Twin Rivers has a lot of faults. The lawns are dead. You can’t run a microwave and a hair dryer at the same time in many homes without the fuse blowing. A 22-year-old man was chased down and shot to death on Gilmore’s street last summer.

But the neighborhood also nurtured Gilmore and her family. It’s where she could afford a home the past 15 years in which to raise her seven children while often working two jobs. The oldest of her kids has a college degree in fashion design. Three more are in college now. The youngest three are in city public schools.

“It doesn’t matter that I’m poor – my kids are going to college,” she said. “This place has served its purpose.”

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