The city of Sacramento moved forward this week on two efforts to address its severe lack of affordable housing and homeless services in South Sacramento and downtown.
City leaders said they purchased 102 acres of land in South Sacramento suitable for affordable housing and other uses. In the near-term, officials said the property will likely be used as a city-sanctioned parking site for people who live in vehicles.
They said the land could later be home to new amenities, such as a community park.
“This is truly our chance to co-build, to co-create something incredible for our community,” Councilmember Mai Vang, who represents South Sacramento, said at a Friday press conference.
Vang said she would hold a series of community listening sessions to gather ideas for what the city should do with the land, located at 3100 Meadowview Road.
The city bought the land for more than $12 million using a combination of general fund, Measure U and affordable housing trust fund dollars, according to Mayor Darrell Steinberg. The acreage had been declared excess land by the federal government. Federal rules require the city to use 25% of the land as affordable housing, city officials said.
Steinberg said there is no timetable for when the city will establish a Safe Ground parking site at the property or come up with additional plans.
Earlier this week, officials announced plans to convert the Best Western hotel on H Street in downtown into 92 units of permanent homeless housing. Officials hope construction can start within months and that residents can move in by this fall.
The city received $24 million funding from the state’s project Homekey, which awards local governments with money to buy hotels, motels and other properties and turn them into long-term housing for people experiencing homelessness.
Money for the so-called Central Sacramento Studios project will go toward adding small kitchens to each room, as well as giving residents access to a case manager who will connect them with health care services.
This will be the third Sacramento hotel converted into permanent housing using Homkey money and the first in downtown. The others are in south Sacramento and north Natomas.
City Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, who represents the central city, said the Homekey grant provides a faster and less expensive way to create long-term homeless housing. It can take local governments years and far more money to build new affordable housing projects.
Valenzuela is one of many city leaders and advocates who believe permanent housing is the ultimate answer to the homeless crisis.
“We all know that, in the end, the solution to homelessness isn’t shelter. It’s not these safe camping sites,” Valenzuela said this week. “It’s having permanent units where people can be getting the services and long-term support that they need.”
She said that Sacramento County will pay for “deeper case management services,” including mental health care for residents in 15 of the units.
Steinberg added in a press release: “More projects like this will provide relief to unhoused people and to people who live and work downtown.”
Faye Wilson Kennedy, co-chair of the Sacramento Poor People’s Campaign, said she supports the housing plan. But she hopes residents will be allowed greater freedom to come and go compared to other recent statewide initiatives.
Kennedy said the state’s Homekey predecessor, Project Roomkey, has strict rules barring residents from having visitors and limits when people can come and go. Statewide, that effort sheltered tens of thousands of homeless residents in motel rooms early in the pandemic. It’s been extended in Sacramento County several times over the past two years, though it was never meant to be permanent.
“We just have to wait to see how the Best Western project works out,” Kennedy said. “We’re hoping that this project learns from some of the mistakes or challenges that other Project Roomkey (efforts) had.”
Seated outside the now-closed Best Western in downtown Sacramento, homeless outreach worker Trygve Snyder said he’s optimistic about the property’s future.
“If it’s run well, if it’s run by a competent agency, it will be great,” predicted Snyder, who said he was homeless off-and-on for about two decades before he found housing several years ago. “You take people off the street, get them stabilized and a lot of people will want to stay. A lot of people will want to get out, get their act together, put some money in the bank, go to school.”
Sean Wright, president of the Alkali and Mansion Flats Neighborhood Association, said his group is opposed to the project.
“The city continues to over-concentrate,” homeless services in the central city, Wright said.
He said he believes the housing will bring more homeless people to the neighborhood, some who will camp outside the former motel.
Valenzuela said she’s aware of the concerns and has worked with the community on plans to prevent that from happening. She added she’s hoping the project will take homeless people off the street, including some who camp at nearby Cesar Chavez Park or near City Hall.
The project’s residents will be selected on a referral-only basis, said Lisa Bates, chief executive officer of Sacramento Steps Forward. The nonprofit will help local officials set priorities for who gets selected. Older homeless residents, those with medical needs and those who have been homeless for a long time will be at the top of the list, Bates said.
It’s not clear how local officials will pay for the housing and supportive services once the state’s nearly $24 million award runs out. Valenzuela said the city will need to decide at that point whether to pick up the ongoing costs.
Angela Jones, a spokesperson for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, said no additional funds will be needed for 15 years “beyond those already approved by the City Council.”
The long-term funding of Homekey projects is a significant concern, at least for some local governments.
Yuba City announced last week that it would not move forward on a request to seek Homekey funding to convert a motel into homeless housing.
That community already has one Homekey project, but a Yuba City official said in a press release that the city did not know what the long-term funding commitments would be for the new request.
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