Let’s consider some realistic options for affordable housing today by borrowing from our past. Some of them seem obvious, but they don’t seem to be part of the current discussions.
Recruit homebuilders to construct smaller homes. “Starter homes” were modest houses that might be called entry level or workforce housing now. Built after World War II and again in the 1970’s and ’80s, they came with Formica countertops, vinyl floors, small bedrooms, carports or one-car garages, and no fences or landscaping.
Require half-plexes and duplexes again on corners in new developments. These smaller homes greatly expanded and integrated more affordable units into Land Park, East Sacramento, South Natomas and Pocket/Greenhaven, and do not depress property values.
Build more senior housing to free up existing homes for younger families. With few options in the city, many older homeowners decide to stay in place, which reduces the inventory, depresses city property tax revenue and means fewer children for city school districts.
Require construction or adaptation for disabled persons. They are the most impacted by fast-rising housing costs due to the limited number of accessible housing units. Universal design would be helpful for young families with strollers, bikes and visiting grandparents.
Establish tiny homes villages. Whether we call them manufactured or prefab homes, mobile homes or tiny houses, these affordable homes are very livable when the complex is well designed and managed. Let’s figure out how we can build more soon, possibly on surplus city or county property.
Make getting roommates easy and safe. Working with area colleges and universities, couldn’t we develop a program matching students with residents who have an extra room to rent? The missing link is the support of an outside group to screen students and landlords to help make a match.
Support rooming houses and communal housing. With the revitalization and gentrification of midtown, we lost many rooming houses that provided affordable rentals to lower-income workers.
The city needs to grasp every opportunity to provide housing for low- and middle-income people throughout Sacramento. If it’s really a crisis then require every new project to include some smaller or less expensive units. City staff should be asked to present realistic options to the Planning Commission and City Council to keep housing affordable.
We need to question our definitions of “market-rate” housing, which is now housing for the wealthy, and “affordable,” which is housing for the rest of us. Housing that the average employed person in Sacramento can afford should be the norm.
Lastly, the city needs to finally fix the painful process homeowners and small builders must go through to modify existing homes. Second units in garages or backyards should be supported and encouraged with a friendlier permit process.
These are solutions that don’t take years to achieve. Let’s make it a priority and just do it.
Heather Fargo was mayor of Sacramento from 2000 to 2008. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.