City buys 102 acres in South Sacramento for affordable homes, plans to convert downtown hotel to homeless housing

The City of Sacramento moved forward this week in two efforts to address its severe lack of affordable housing and homeless services in South Sacramento and downtown.

City leaders said they have purchased 102 acres of land in South Sacramento suitable for affordable housing and other uses. In the short 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 house new amenities, like a community park.

“This is really our chance to co-build, to co-create something amazing for our community,” council member Mai Vang, who represents South Sacramento, said at a Friday press conference.

Vang said she would host a series of community listening sessions to gather ideas about what the city should do with the land, located at 3100 Meadowview Road.

According to Mayor Darrell Steinberg, the city bought the land for more than $12 million using a combination of general funds, Measure U and affordable housing trust funds. The area had been declared surplus 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 timeline for when the city will establish a Safe Ground parking site on the property or come up with additional plans.

Earlier this week, officials announced plans to convert the Best Western hotel on H Street downtown into 92 permanent homes for the homeless. Officials hope construction can begin in a few months and residents can move in by this fall.

The city received $24 million in funding from the state’s Homekey Project, which gives local governments money to buy hotels, motels and other properties and turn them into long-term housing for residents. homeless people.

Money for the so-called Central Sacramento Studios project will be used to add small kitchens to each room, as well as give residents access to a case manager who will connect them with health care services.

It will be the third hotel in Sacramento converted to permanent housing using Homkey money and the first downtown. The others are south of Sacramento and north of Natomas.

City council member Katie Valenzuela, who represents the central city, said the Homekey grant provides a faster, cheaper way to create housing for the long-term homeless. It can take local governments years and a lot 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 homelessness crisis.

“We all know that ultimately the solution to homelessness is not shelter. These are not those safe campsites,” Valenzuela said this week. “It’s about having permanent units where people can get the long-term services and support they need.

She said Sacramento County would pay for “more in-depth case management services,” including mental health care for residents of 15 of the units.

Steinberg added in a press release, “More projects like this will bring relief to homeless people and 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 have greater freedom to come and go compared to other recent statewide initiatives.

Kennedy said the state’s Homekey predecessor, Project Roomkey, has strict rules prohibiting residents from having visitors and limits when people can come and go. Across the state, this effort sheltered tens of thousands of homeless residents in motel rooms early in the pandemic. It has been extended in Sacramento County several times over the past two years, although it was never meant to be permanent.

“We just have to wait and see how the Best Western project works out,” Kennedy said. “We hope this project will learn from some of the mistakes or challenges that other (efforts) in the Roomkey project have had.”

Sitting outside the now closed Best Western in downtown Sacramento, Trygve Snyder, a homeless outreach worker, said he was optimistic about the property’s future.

“If it’s handled well, if it’s handled by a competent agency, it will be great,” predicted Snyder, who said he had been homeless on and off for about two decades before finding housing there. several years. “You take people off the streets, you stabilize them and a lot of people will want to stay. A lot of people will want to get out, pull themselves together, put money in the bank, go to school.

Sean Wright, president of the Alkali and Mansion Flats Neighborhood Association, said his group opposed the project.

“The city continues to be overfocused,” Wright said.

He said he thought the housing would bring more homeless people to the neighborhood, some of whom would camp outside the old motel.

Valenzuela said she was aware of the concerns and had worked with the community on plans to prevent this from happening. She added that she hopes the project will take homeless people off the streets, including some who camp in Cesar Chavez Park near or near City Hall.

Project residents will be selected by recommendation only, said Lisa Bates, executive director of Sacramento Steps Forward. The nonprofit organization 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 top the list, Bates said.

It’s unclear how local authorities will pay for housing and support services once the state’s nearly $24 million price tag is exhausted. Valenzuela said the city will have to decide at that time whether to meet the ongoing costs.

Angela Jones, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, said no additional funds will be needed for 15 years “beyond those already approved by City Council.”

Long-term financing of Homekey projects is a significant concern, at least for some local governments.

Yuba City announced last week that it would not proceed with a request for Homekey funding to convert a motel into housing for the homeless.

This community already has a Homekey project, but a Yuba city official said in a press release that the city does not know what the long-term funding commitments for the new demand will be.

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