Neighbors failed to block new housing in north Sacramento. Here’s why that’s good news

California’s shameful and growing homelessness crisis can only be solved with more affordable housing. Gov. Gavin Newsom has pledged to build 3.5 million new housing units by 2025, and housing affordability must be a top priority for local governments.

But neighborhood opposition to a proposed affordable housing project in north Sacramento illustrates the challenges of overcoming “NIMBY” activism.

NIMBY is an acronym for “not in my backyard.” It refers to people who generally support things like solving homelessness and building more affordable housing, but with a big caveat: They don’t want these solutions located in or near their own neighborhoods.

Exhibit A: A proposed 128-unit affordable housing complex on Arden Way in north Sacramento. A San Diego developer plans to start construction in December 2020. The sleek and modern apartments would replace boarded-up facilities on the so-called Lumberjack site that have sat empty for years, but a group of local residents has risen up to vocally oppose such progress.

“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,” according to a Sacramento Bee story by Theresa Clift.


In a letter to city officials, a group of 17 local residents representing opposition to the project said it’s unfair to build the project in their neighborhood. “Once again, the developer indicates that North Sacramento — a segregated, underdeveloped district — is the best place for low income housing and homeless shelters,” they wrote.

Let’s consider this logic. A developer wants to build affordable housing on an empty and abandoned lot on a run down strip of Arden Way. The empty lot in question, tucked among warehouses and empty storefronts, is not adjacent to any other houses in the neighborhood. So, the new development’s opponents aren’t complaining about construction noise or blocked views. They’re saying they don’t want any more working class families moving into their part of town.

They suggest that, instead, the city should target affordable housing creation in places like East Sacramento and Land Park. There’s only one problem with this argument: basic economics. Building affordably means building in affordable locations. That’s why a boarded-up lot on Arden makes sense.

Building new apartments in an economically-depressed urban strip can only improve things. Local stores and restaurants will benefit from the added vibrancy of new residents.

After all, this is affordable housing.

“You’re talking about teachers, young professionals, people that make 30 or 40 or $50,000 a year … They’re investing millions of dollars in an area that’s been a steady source of illegal dumping and vagrants,” Councilman Allen Warren told The Bee.

The new apartments will target 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” and will accept Federal Housing Choice vouchers.

It’s a win for Sacramento residents in need of housing they can afford, a win for the dilapidated strip of Arden that will be improved by its presence and a win for a city in the throes of a near-apocalyptic homeless crisis. Despite opposition, the project will move forward, pending a $4 million investment from the city.

This is good news, but these stories don’t always end well. In San Francisco, angry residents of the affluent Forest Hill neighborhood killed a 150-unit affordable housing project for seniors. Across the state, neighborhood opposition has succeeded in stopping projects to provide housing for the homeless — including here in Sacramento.

It’s easy to point the finger at such intolerance, but how will you react when a project gets proposed in your community? We hope Sacramentans, and Californians in general, can learn to welcome more housing with open arms. It’s the only way we can hope to solve the housing crisis.

Resisting affordability only worsens the problem. People in need of affordable housing are already members of our community. The only question is whether we want our neighbors to live down the street or sleep in the street.

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