Editorials

Life is now hellish for Capitol Park Hotel residents. Here’s what City Council must do

Bedbugs. No water. Broken elevators. See the living conditions inside Capitol Park Hotel

Elderly residents say they are struggling with bedbugs, fleas, no water and broken elevators at the Capitol Park Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. "We are getting to the point where it's almost unlivable," said George Green, 76.
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Elderly residents say they are struggling with bedbugs, fleas, no water and broken elevators at the Capitol Park Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. "We are getting to the point where it's almost unlivable," said George Green, 76.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen’s plan to open a 180-bed temporary homeless shelter in the Capitol Park Hotel was always going to be complicated. That’s because people at risk for homelessness already live in almost half the units.

Yet last April the City Council voted to approve Hansen’s plan unanimously, appointing the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency to oversee the transition and relocation of 90 tenants then living in the 107-year-old building.

The shelter was supposed to open last month, but didn’t. Instead, 75 tenants remain in the hotel, which was always dingy but has taken a turn for the worse since SHRA took over. The remaining tenants, many of them elderly and vulnerable, struggle with bedbugs, broken elevators, water shutoffs and poor air conditioning on 100-degree days, according to an investigation by Sacramento Bee reporter Theresa Clift.

Some of these residents require the elevators for mobility. Resident David Nelson, 75, who has a lung condition, told the Bee he was forced to take the stairs from his third-floor room to get to an important doctor’s appointment.

“By the time I got down there, I was so short of breath,” he said. “Then I came back and had to walk up the stairs.”

He’d never seen the situation so bad in his 15 years living at the hotel, he told The Bee.

What’s City Hall’s response to the deteriorating conditions, which basically amount to a humanitarian crisis in downtown Sacramento? Lots of finger pointing. Hansen blamed SHRA for the problems. Yet Hansen proposed converting the single room occupancy hotel into a temporary homeless shelter after Mercy Housing, a nonprofit, announced plans to buy the hotel and develop refurbished units for the formerly homeless. And the City Council appointed SHRA to run it.

“SHRA has to be held accountable,” Hansen told The Bee on Tuesday.

This shirking of responsibility is unacceptable. Though SHRA may be charged with overseeing the building, Hansen and the rest of the City Council remain accountable for the mess.

Mayor Darrell Steinberg, at least, understands that it’s the council’s responsibility to oversee what SHRA does. “They’re our agent. We are the governing body for the city portion of SHRA,” he told The Bee.

He said the city has asked SHRA to start reporting back weekly on its progress opening the shelter and finding housing for remaining tenants.

“There’s only one response to it,” Steinberg said. “Fix it.”

Given the dire situation on Sacramento’s streets, it makes sense that the council is considering options that are not ideal. But fixing this broken situation at Capitol Park Hotel will require more than greater oversight of SHRA’s role. It will require a different attitude than the council has shown to this point.

The proposal for a 180-bed shelter was predicated on relocating those already there. That’s a pretty hefty task before even starting to work on what was promised –a 180-bed homeless shelter open in time for winter. In light of circumstances for original hotel tenants, reaching the originally planned capacity for the shelter may not be possible, Steinberg said.

Tenants tell The Bee they fear the transition could leave them homeless. Many of these people are elderly or disabled who need living quarters near public transportation and their doctors.

The mayor’s plan to put a shelter in each district, with a target capacity of 100 beds each, has been a challenge for the whole city. But it’s well worth it. Just placing the shelters, though, is not enough. The council should be careful to not set a precedent by adopting solutions that destabilize housing for vulnerable populations in order to provide shelter for others.

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