Editorials

There’s a right and a wrong way to fix the housing crisis. Guess which one Sacramento is doing

With skyrocketing rents in the Sacramento region, the City Council on Tuesday will hold the first of two public workshops to come up with strategies to address the growing affordable housing crisis.
With skyrocketing rents in the Sacramento region, the City Council on Tuesday will hold the first of two public workshops to come up with strategies to address the growing affordable housing crisis. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

With the first of two public workshops on Sacramento’s worsening affordable housing crisis scheduled for Tuesday, the pressure is on for the city to do something — heck, anything — to fix it. But Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council would be wise to remember that how they do something is just as important as what they do.

There is certainly reason to worry they won’t heed that advice.

On Tuesday, for example, council members will discuss ways to increase the city’s paltry supply of affordable housing, rather than focus on the needs of tenants, many of whom need an immediate intervention to avoid being priced out of their homes and ending up on the streets.

Likely topics include speeding construction by waiving fees for developers and maybe expediting the city’s cumbersome review process. It also could include easing parking requirements and identifying a new source of money to shore up the Housing Trust Fund, which only has enough money to build about 15 units.

All of these are good, if long-term, strategies to addressing the housing crisis. Meanwhile, tenants will have to wait three whole weeks to have their concerns heard.

At the second workshop, scheduled for Sept. 4, council members will finally tackle rent eviction protections and stabilization — a thorny proposal that developers swear is rent control, but that Steinberg insists will help the neediest of tenants avoid losing their homes while longer term plans to build housing ramp up.

It’s bad enough that there is such a lag time between the workshops. Even worse, any plan that emerges from the discussions will inevitability come up for a vote within weeks of the November election, making an already ideologically confusing ballot even more confusing.

Voters will be asked to raise their local taxes by approving Measure U, to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act to give California cities a path to expand rent control, to approve a statewide veterans housing bond in Proposition 1, and to repeal a statewide gas tax increase with Proposition 6.

Therefore, the sooner the City Council puts together a plan on affordable housing, the better. But the needs of both tenants and developers must be addressed at the same time, in a single policy, not piecemeal. That’s the only way to assuage skeptical voters.

After all, things are clearly getting worse for tenants in Sacramento, not better.

Last week, the California Association of Realtors reported that only 41 percent of potential homebuyers in Sacramento County can now afford a median-priced, $374,000 home here — a 10-year low for housing affordability, much like the rest of California.

And on the other end of the spectrum, Steinberg admitted last week that the city hasn’t been able to find any suitable locations to open more emergency shelters for homeless people.

The plan had been to open the first of three “Sprung” tent shelters in September, with space for up to 200 homeless men and women. Now, though, the existing, 24 shelter on Railroad Drive in North Sacramento will stay open through November, using a $1.2 million donation from Dignity Health.

This is an unsustainable situation that is crying out for a solution. The time to act is now.

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