The Sacramento City Council is expected to take a first step Tuesday toward a citywide homeless siting plan that Mayor Darrell Steinberg says will make opening shelters in the capital city much easier.
The idea is for the council to adopt a “master plan” — essentially a map marking public and private properties across the city where thousands of homeless can be sheltered or housed. Once the council approves the map, staff could open large shelters, tiny homes and “Safe Ground” lots for car and tent camping on the sites anytime. It eliminates the need to approve – and debate – each site individually.
“I think we have a new opportunity and a big opportunity to reboot,” Steinberg said.
But it will not happen overnight. Tuesday’s meeting will kick off an intense six months of work before the plan is finalized.
The council is expected to vote to direct staff to start working on the plan and adopt a calendar, which includes a series of public meetings and workshops that will take place throughout the winter and spring. In June, the council would vote to approve the plan, according to the city staff report.
Any new shelters, tiny homes or Safe Ground sites opening as a result of the plan will not open until after June. But Steinberg said that will not hold up any new projects.
“We can’t afford to wait for the completion of the master plan,” Steinberg said. “We need more shelter.”
Local officials are converting a hotel into 100 units of homeless housing in the south Sacramento neighborhood of Parkway, set to open by March as part of the state’s Project Homekey program. A long-awaited shelter is set to open under the W-X freeway this summer. The city could also open a safe parking lot or tiny homes prior to June, Steinberg said.
Homeless activists are urging city officials to do more to get the homeless indoors this winter, with rain becoming frequent, overnight temperatures dipping into the 30s and shelters full on any given night. The city opened a downtown warming center last week, but due to the coronavirus, it will only open again when temperatures hit 32 degrees.
“I hope we find the path to success,” Joe Smith, Loaves and Fishes advocacy director, said in a tweet. “In the meantime, people are wet and cold and suffering. I’m ready to be a part of long-term plans as long as we take care of the short-term needs.”
Steinberg said he wants Sacramento County to be part of the master plan process. The county receives much more federal and state funding for homelessness than the city.
“We cannot do any of it alone,” Steinberg said. “We need their help and partnership.”
During the coronavirus, city, county and housing agency officials opened 63 trailers and four hotels to shelter homeless people from the coronavirus — three of which are still open under the state’s Project Roomkey program. More than 1,300 people have spent time in the hotels and trailers since the pandemic struck in March, according to the city.
“I want to do everything I can to reach out my hand and say, ‘What can we do to replicate that success?’” Steinberg said.
Affordable housing trust fund
The council will also take a step Tuesday toward creating a major $100 million affordable housing trust fund.
That plan calls for using a portion of future Measure U sales tax revenue to back bonds issued to spark the construction of new affordable housing units across the city.
The council agreed in January to sell $50 million in bonds, but the plan was put on hold when the pandemic struck. Tuesday, the council is expected to direct staff to conduct a “stress test” to determine whether the city can still afford to issue the bonds, despite losing at least $90 million in projected revenue due to the pandemic.
“I think that would be not just a big statement, but it would be a substantive commitment to preventing more people from becoming homeless who are living in a very precarious way,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg wants a portion of the bonds to go toward sparking affordable housing to be built along Stockton Boulevard for “Aggie Square mitigation,” he said.
UC Davis’ $1.1 billion Aggie Square project will bring at least 3,500 jobs to the medical center campus, sparking concerns about increased displacement and gentrification for Oak Park and Tahoe Park residents. In addition, the city recently cleared a large homeless encampment of about 75 people at a private lot on Stockton Boulevard, drawing attention for the need for affordable housing on the corridor’s many vacant lots.
The new housing bonds would be backed by Measure U sales tax revenue. Sales tax revenue has taken a hit during the pandemic, but not as much as parking revenue (used for the Golden One Center debt repayment), or hotel taxes (used to help renovate the Sacramento Convention Center and Community Center Theater).
The council will also Tuesday discuss the city’s tenant protection program, which limits how much landlords can raise annual rent and when they can evict tenants. City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, who requested the discussion, has said she wants to strengthen the ordinance — an idea Steinberg has said he is open to.
The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. Tuesday. It will be livestreamed on the city’s website.