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Hope for the Housing Element?

Updated: Jan 19, 2022

On June 15th the Sacramento Council & Housing Authority met to discuss the development of a senior housing project, which was approved for financing, as well as the draft of the 2021-2029 Housing Element proposal.

First we’ll cover the housing project, this item was in regard to requesting financing for the 39th and Broadway senior housing project. Approval was given, which is good, but one thing stood out as potentially problematic. The project will be built on soil that was contaminated by chemicals from a dry-cleaning business that was previously located at that site. The city will be paying to clean and decontaminate the area, but we are wondering if this is a problem from an environmental justice lens? If you have knowledge around this subject and/or this practice we would love to hear from you! Once we have more context we can follow-up with a more in-depth piece.

One notable comment on this item came from Councilmember Valenzuela, who lifted up the efforts of Vice Mayor Schenirer and of the SHRA that have facilitated its development. She also emphasized the need for affordable housing for demographics outside the senior population.

Some background on the Housing Element:

On April 6th the Sacramento City Council authorized the submission of the draft 2021-2029 Housing Element proposal to the State Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for their 60 day review. Because the City Council meeting agenda was so packed on April 7th, there was no time to hold a workshop on the proposal. City Council requested that staff return at a later date for a more focused workshop, which is what took place at the meeting on June 15th. The purpose of this workshop was to incorporate community and council input into the draft of the HE, these suggestions will be taken into account alongside the revisions sent back from the State.

Why do we need a Housing Element plan? Here is a quote from DHCD’s website explaining that question

Since 1969, California has required that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community. California’s local governments meet this requirement by adopting housing plans as part of their “general plan” (also required by the state). General plans serve as the local government’s "blueprint" for how the city and/or county will grow and develop and include seven elements: land use, transportation, conservation, noise, open space, safety, and housing

There are two main components to the HE:

  1. Inventory of sites to accommodate need for housing

  2. Goals, policies, and programs related to reducing the unhoused population

The HE has set the goal for new units by 2029 at 45,880, which breaks down into roughly 5,700 units per year. This definitely seems like a daunting task! A more specific goal of the HE is to expand affordable housing types throughout the city, BUT a key thing to know is that the HE has no mechanism to enforce implementation. To change policy related to implementation there first has to be an update of the General Plan, followed by an update to the planning and development code. It is also worth noting that the HE is not meant to serve as a comprehensive strategy, rather it is a call for the development of a local plan for the unhoused population, and for measuring the impact of enacted policies.

What does all this mean? Essentially that unless the Council takes aggressive action toward reducing the unhoused population the HE will not be effective.

Here is the link to the HE page of the City Council’s website; on this page you can find all the links related to documents for the HE.

Important timeline:

Key to be aware of: the Council has to adopt a finalized version of the HE by September 12th of 2021. Make your voice heard at upcoming Council meetings!

Some comments from Councilmembers:

Mayor Steinberg made some comments about how we can’t solve the issues surrounding the unhoused population without community buy-in. What is also true, is that the Council needs to take action to solve this human rights crisis, no matter how much upper-class property owning people may protest.

Councilmember Valenzuela gave kudos to the plan *Pictured below: Katie Valenzuela

and called it “progressive”. She also brought up the idea of vacancy taxes and emphasized the need to use vacant parcels of land. Later in the meeting Katie gave thanks to city staff for opening the cooling centers, but also pushed the idea of opening more centers, providing

transportation to them, and keeping them open later. Mayor Steinberg brought up the fact that the Council had discussed year-round respite centers and encouraged members to think about solutions.

Councilmember Schenirer expressed the hope that these principles would be kept in mind when using the City’s housing trust fund.

Councilmember Harris gave some truly amazing testimony lamenting the fact that the city could only do so much to address the issue of homelessness because “we are at the mercy of the marketplace”. He claims that the market cannot be influenced by policy, a position which the Mayor expressed agreement with. That’s pretty transparently false, and it’s incredibly frustrating to know that that is the view held by our elected officials. More work to be done!

The HE plan is ambitious and seems to indicate a desire to take the homelessness crisis seriously, hopefully there is follow through on the part of the Council.

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