The lack of affordable housing is a region-wide crisis, as it spans multiple demographic groups. The problem existentially has no boundaries, affecting those who are homeless, underemployed, immigrants, seniors, those with disabilities, veterans, emancipated foster youth, those who experience trauma, creatives, Millennials and young families just starting out. The solution must be multi-pronged and the response massive.
The Carabiner set out to demonstrate the resolve to solve this region-wide, affordable housing issue through the voices of ALF senior fellows involved in the fight. If the contribution being made by our fellows is an indication, it’s clear the region knows which housing and supportive programs work; we simply just don’t have enough of them.
According to recently released information, there is a shortfall of 62,000 affordable homes for those who are on very low incomes, and waitlists for public housing and the housing choice vouchers is 17,000 people long. Private affordable housing developers are seeing a similar demand. Sacramento County’s pronounced growth among homeless who are unsheltered and sleeping outdoors may be the tipping point for action.
The disproportionate increase in unsheltered homeless in the region (85 percent since 2015) has caused a domino effect. Public health priorities dictate that unsheltered homeless needs come first over the needs of those in a shelter or transitional housing. This hierarchy impacts those in transitional housing and their ability to shift to permanent housing with accompanying services. In order to make room for transitional populations, other housing projects are impacted, and this goes on and on over the continuum, eventually affecting luxury housing construction. The bottom line is — we need housing — all sorts of it.
The multi-pronged, complex solution is to incentivize private developers to build affordable housing; securing more grant money for public housing and get the elected officials on board with the policies and initiatives needed to get projects done.
That is what is to be learned from Capital Public Radio's The View From Here: Place And Privilege podcast series and landmark radio documentary on housing and homelessness. The show explores the history, politics and economics of housing affordability through the personal stories of those who are hit the hardest and living on the edge.
Joe Barr (Class XVII), Cap Radio’s Chief Content Officer and a producer of the series, explains the podcast series’ name: “The title of the documentary is Place And Privilege. Increasingly, housing is becoming a privilege. We look at privilege as having the resources to live where you want, or at least where you need to. More and more people don't have that ability.”
William Kennedy (Class IX), Law Office of William Kennedy, Elk Grove, CA., a staunch advocate of equitable policies that advance middle class opportunities, was featured in one of the episodes. He sees the region’s current housing policy as using all available land to create housing for the top 30 percent of the socioeconomic sector, ignoring the needs of the 70 percent who also need housing. To change the paradigm of a development model that maximizes profit by responding to the demand of the few and not the need of the many, Kennedy suggests:
“If we thought of housing as a ‘utility’ rather than a commodity, our policies would be very different. Rural electrification did not happen because it was profitable; it is not. It happened because we decided as a society that this is something a decent society should provide to all.”
Placer County may be just what Kennedy is talking about when he refers to housing as a commodity rather than a utility. The county is admired nationally as a great place to live, but there is a hidden side to its prosperity. Forty two percent of working households are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. There is a disconnect between how much people earn (including police officers and teachers) and what a home in a decent neighborhood costs.
Placer Housing Matters, a project of Placer Community Foundation, advocates for affordable housing by educating the public and shining the light on the need for attainable housing for Placer County’s workforce. Foundation board members Ken Larson (Class V) and Jim Williams (Class VIII) are committed to sounding the alarms to build more housing, and so is foundation CEO Veronica Blake (Class XIII). Their efforts are working.
“The county developed a housing work plan for the year which includes issuing an RFP for a first phase of affordable housing in our government center,” writes Blake. Blake appears in a short video that sums up succinctly the severity of the problem.
Cindy Tuttle (Class XIX) sees a West Sacramento house-the-homeless pilot program (that started with an idea from police officers) as a worthy model to be replicated throughout the region. To humanely shut down a homeless river encampment in West Sacramento, the Bridge to Housing Pilot Project was born. The short-term experiment has had long-term results.
West Sacramento Park and Recreation Director Tuttle was a hands-on operative of the logistically-sensitive plan to lure the skeptical homeless into motel housing and wraparound services. She credits many, including senior fellows Lisa Baker (Class XIX), Christopher Cabaldon (Class VII), Marty Tuttle (Class VII), and Yolo County Supervisor Oscar Villegas (Class XII), as instrumental to the outcomes.
West Sacramento does appear to be a housing innovation hub. For instance, West Gateway Place is a mixed-use, transit-oriented workforce housing property that has received $2.6 million in cap-and-trade funds allocated by the California Strategic Growth Council. Debra Oto-Kent (Class XVII), the founder and CEO of Health Education Council, tells us that the West Sacramento Housing Corp is a minority partner in that successful and fully-leased project, and they are focused on projects that larger nonprofits and housing developers are not interested in doing.
“We control nine affordable housing properties ranging up to 90 units in West Sacramento for a total of 277 units,” Oto-Kent says. “We are currently consulting on the development of a project to house individuals who are supported by Yolo County Mental Health and individuals who are at risk of homelessness. We are also in pre-development on a small project for emancipated foster youth.”
No one knows more about the complexity of the affordable housing issue than Lisa Baker, the CEO of Yolo County Housing and the New Hope Community Development Corp. She serves on the national Community Revitalization and Development Committee for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, and has served as the association’s national subcommittee chair on homeless policy and legislation. She authors articles on housing sustainability, program innovation, development, homelessness, social media, and implicit bias. Baker also participated in the aforementioned podcast series, “Place And Privilege.”
“The lack of affordable housing is not an overnight phenomenon,” says Baker. “It is the result of many factors including the loss of funding through budget cuts, the end of local redevelopment agencies, and a variety of zoning, land use and regulatory impediments that have disenfranchised housing development options.”
Baker sees the proliferation of large homes on one end of the spectrum and predominately deeply subsidized units at the other end. She says this is indicative of a market with too few options. She advocates for smaller but well-designed spaces, including condominium and apartment development.
“We have created a false notion of ‘market rate’ housing – most people who are in the market can't actually afford anything for rent or for sale. On the other side, we don't do a good job of matching existing residents to good jobs, leaving us with mismatched jobs and labor pool."
Besides the obvious solutions such as adequate funding and good public-private partnerships, a commitment to greater types and prices of housing to match the actual local market – a real jobs-to-housing balance – is a “fix” Baker sees as essential. Additional objectives include an end to implicit bias in housing and zoning plus an increase in awareness and education efforts:
“We need to engage with the topic from the perspective of those who are suffering. As someone who was once homeless myself for a short while, I’m hoping we learn how to resolve these issues locally and nationally. To do that, we must have an understanding of the issue, and we must have empathy.”
Stephanie Bray, (Class XIX) of United Way knows first-hand the impact of limited affordable housing and its effect on families in crisis. The Siemer Institute for Family Stability granted United Way funds to work with households to build the kind of financial stability that will prevent future crises from recurring.
United Way and three participating partners took the Siemer Program to the North Highlands area, specifically to the Robla School District, which suffers from a poverty rate of 93 percent, and at any given point in the school year, as much as 40 percent of students are classified as homeless. But despite all the headwinds on the service side, Bray’s frustration on the ability to stabilize a neighborhood long term is spelled out in all caps:
“THERE IS NOT ENOUGH AFFORDABLE HOUSING AVAILABLE IN THE COMMUNITY WE ARE TRYING TO SERVE. As a result, we have to move families and their children out of the school district. This is very disruptive to those families and children and has an impact on education outcomes.”
The Roberts Family Development Center’s CEO and co-founder Derrell Roberts (Class X) is partnering on the Siemer project to work with the youth from participating families on academic, social and financial learning.
Providing the people of California a rational and comprehensive community-based behavioral health system that includes housing is the mission of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, and is led by Paul Curtis (Class XVI).
“Our state is the second worst in the country for providing shelter to homeless youth, even to just get them off the street,” says Curtis. “I served on the local Continuum of Care [advisory board for Sacramento Steps Forward], which oversees the HUD and federal grants for homeless services and housing. I can tell you that affordable housing is a very low priority at this time.”
Homeless, housing-first initiatives that offer wraparound services are now considered a best practice, and are the trend for most new affordable housing developments.
Erin Johansen (Class XX), executive director of TLCS, a nonprofit offering several mental-health recovery programs that also owns six housing co-op facilities, is keeping her fingers crossed. She is hoping for a green light from all parties for a project that has all the creative elements necessary to actually come to fruition.
“We have an upcoming project to house 30 homeless transition age youth per year that is partnering private dollars with HUD funding,” she says. “It is a partnership between TLCS and Wind Youth Services with the support of Sutter Health’s ‘Getting to Zero’ campaign, a regional effort to end chronic homelessness by aligning programs and resources around a low-or-no barrier approach to housing.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg (Class V) says on the “Getting to Zero” website: “By aligning resources, encouraging collaboration and prioritizing a housing-first system, Getting To Zero provides the infrastructure our region needs to effectively end chronic homelessness.”
Together with local government and business partners, Sutter Health — Holly Harper (Class XX) is Sutter’s community benefits manager — is committed to helping raise $20 million over three years to support this effort, and will match up to $10 million in contributions to the Getting to Zero campaign.
Clearly, affordable housing, considered a social determinant of health, and access to healthcare, particularly mental healthcare, are intertwined. Michele Wong (Class VIII) just joined the board of Saint John’s Program for Change, a program for homeless women and their children run by CEO Michele Steeb (Class XVI). Saint John’s program helps homeless women to become self-sustainable by providing a 12-18 month residential program that includes comprehensive mental health services, GED attainment, and career education.
Tamu Nolfo (Class XX) also comes to the housing-first table through a health perspective.
“I work with the Office of Health Equity in the California Department of Public Health and have used my position there to put as much attention on housing as possible,” Nolfo says. “For one of our quarterly advisory committee meetings this year, I pushed to have the day-long meeting focused on housing. One of the follow-up actions was that the committee provided formal input into the statewide housing plan.”
Formal input into policy starts with conversations and relationship building. For instance, using a human-centered design framework, Uptown Studios — with president and owner Tina Reynolds (Class XIV) — conducted three focus groups that included business leaders, service providers and people who are homeless. The overarching design question was: How might temporary shelter alternatives be created for homeless citizens while maintaining flourishing business districts? Each group provided valuable insight that resulted in specific recommendations for a community solution in sheltering homeless people.
Kate Meis (Class XX), executive director of Local Government Commission (LGC), also believes in relationships moving mountains. Along with technical assistance, consulting and facilitating informative events, LGC works to build livable communities and local leadership by connecting leaders via innovative programs. Meis also participated as a steering committee member of Capital Public Radio's The View From Here: Place And Privilege podcast series and documentary, and is excited to announce an added attraction at an upcoming conference.
“We’ll be featuring a housing track to educate and build the capacity of local leaders at our National New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, which will attract over 1,200 people,” says Meis.
David Hosley (Class VII) would probably enjoy the conference. He is concerned that although each local government is assigned an affordable housing mandate, almost every city and county in the state is falling short, including a percentage of units for low-income seniors.
That’s why Hosley and some friends built what they see as a model for senior living in downtown’s Park View Place Davis. The idea is to attract seniors to a supportive community where services and cultural amenities are easily accessed. Additionally, their three-story building employs advances in renewable energy to tone down costs and be environmentally responsible.
The plight of homeless seniors is also particularly troublesome to Kevin Kitrell Ross (Class XVII) CEO, Unity of Sacramento. He preaches that true prosperity is being in a position to share it with others, and that includes your less fortunate neighbors.
Unity of Sacramento and other faith communities and houses of worship are working together through their Winter Sanctuary Initiative. They take turns opening their doors for a week at a time to provide housing, feeding, clothing, providing grooming services, counseling, spiritual inspiration, job placement and housing assistance to homeless individuals in Sacramento. Ross is asking to partner with ALF senior fellows and everyone and anyone who wants to step up to take on the issue of housing.
“Winter Sanctuary can be a powerful, life-changing experience, not only for those in the homeless community but for the nearly 100 volunteers who host them,” Ross explains.
This year, Unity of Sacramento will host Winter Sanctuary from January 29 through February 4, 2018.
This robust sampling of senior fellows in the affordable housing trenches spotlights the urgency of the situation and is a testament to their concern for our communities. Let’s keep the momentum up for the sake of their great work.