Hitting streets, building roofs

Council gives the thumbs up to plan for psychiatric crisis team, 80-unit affordable housing development

The Chico City Council on Tuesday (Feb. 6) voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Jesus Center outlining intentions to move the center to city-owned property near the Torres Community Shelter.

The Chico City Council on Tuesday (Feb. 6) voted to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Jesus Center outlining intentions to move the center to city-owned property near the Torres Community Shelter.

CN&R file photo

During a short but productive meeting on Tuesday (Feb. 6), the Chico City Council progressed on multiple fronts related to homelessness.

For starters, the panel approved a memorandum of understanding between the Chico Police Department and the Butte County Department of Behavioral Health establishing a two-person mobile crisis intervention team serving Chico. During a phone conversation with the CN&R, Behavioral Health Director Dorian Kittrell said that, under the pilot program, the counselors will be deployed into the community on a daily basis, from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., with the chief goal of helping police officers who request assistance while responding to psychiatric crises.

“It will be 100 percent field work,” Kittrell said. “When they’re not out on calls, they’ll be doing outreach activities such as welfare checks with our clients living in the community and liaisoning with service organizations like the Torres Shelter, Jesus Center and Chico PD’s Target Team.”

The two counselors have been going on ride-alongs with Chico PD and learning the ins and outs of dispatch for the past six weeks, Kittrel said. He expects the team to hit the streets sometime in March, and if they are successful during the one-year term outlined in the MOU, it’s possible the program will expand countywide.

“It really will depend on funding,” he said. “Ideally, we’d love to have a team on the street seven days a week up until midnight, but those are lofty goals.”

The council also approved a separate MOU between the city and the Jesus Center regarding the proposal to move the center to city-owned property on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and consolidate homeless services. According to a report presented by City Manager Mark Orme, the MOU is “an expression of the parties’ good faith intent to enter into an agreement regarding the Jesus Center’s use of the property if the concept is found feasible.”

On another front related to homelessness, the council approved a proposal to use 5 undeveloped acres of city-owned land at Notre Dame Boulevard and Humboldt Road to build an 80-unit affordable housing complex for very low-income seniors and/or special needs tenants.

Marie Demers, the city’s housing manager, told the council that Chico’s apartment vacancy rate—a statistic published quarterly by the North Valley Property Owners Association—has been hovering around 1.5 percent for months. Many local homeless advocates, housing experts and policymakers say the lack of affordable housing is a root cause of homelessness in the community.

“There’s a shortage of housing in general and, more specifically, smaller units—one- and two-bedroom apartments,” Demers said.

However, city staff needed the council to OK several actions before moving forward on the project, including amending the general plan to rezone the parcel. Staff also needed approval to use the city’s Affordable Housing Fund to “purchase” the property—basically, transferring money internally to the Community Park Fund, which was used for the original purchase—at a cost of $92,881 per acre. And finally, the council was asked to approve the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) and the Housing Authority of Butte County as partners in a long-term lease of the land.

Kris Zappettini, interim president of CHIP, said using city-owned land to build affordable housing is a successful model. “Through similar partnerships in the past, we’ve been able to add 142 affordable units to the housing stock in Chico,” she said. “I think the real point here is talking about the situation. I’m here to be a part of the housing solution.”

Councilwoman Ann Schwab was concerned because the parcel in question is home to the Butte Environmental Council’s Humboldt Community Garden, which would have to move. As such, Schwab made a motion to accept the proposal with an amendment directing the city to help relocate the garden, if possible, which passed unanimously.

Moving forward, the project will be reviewed by the Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board as well as the Finance Committee, and then come back to the council for final approval of the land lease.

In other housing-related news, city staff has been working with the Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT) to find a suitable location for Simplicity Village, a proposed tiny house community for homeless people. Charles Withuhn, a board member for CHAT, told the CN&R by phone that he is optimistic that the concept will go before the council “as soon as we can reach an agreement on an acre and a half of unused property.”