A downtown for everyone

Member of the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Housing Alliance

Through its ongoing efforts at commercial and residential revitalization of the central city, Sacramento is planning a 24-hour downtown. If the visionaries behind this effort have it right, downtown will soon be a bustling hub of evening activities, no longer desolate at 5 p.m.

If we’re not careful, however, this 24-hour city will be open to some residents for only 8 hours a day. That’s because, while they’re welcome to cook and clean, to answer phones, take tickets, and dispense espresso, when they get off work, there will be no place for them to call home downtown; there will be no housing that they can afford. These people, and other low-income residents of our city, deserve a stake in the revitalization of downtown, including the provision of decent affordable housing.

Unfortunately, in an effort to bring more affluent households downtown, the [Sacramento Housing and] Redevelopment Agency has been using our scarce supply of redevelopment and other funds set aside for affordable housing to stimulate the development of housing for those making $50,000 or more a year. As a result, fewer dollars are available to build affordable housing for those who need it most. Rents have risen 12 percent in the past year. This year, the city has an unprecedented number of women with children living on the streets. These families are doing everything right, playing by the rules and still cannot find housing they can afford.

The good news is that these two goals—market-rate and affordable housing downtown—are not mutually exclusive. However, and this is the important point, the funds we use to accomplish them are. A very limited amount of public funds—including 20 percent of the Redevelopment Agency’s revenue—is set aside each year to meet the great demand for housing affordable to low-income households. We should carefully guard this limited resource to make sure it is going where the need is greatest.

Eighty percent of the agency’s revenue can be used for any redevelopment purpose allowed under state law. The city should use these funds to stimulate the development of market-rate housing downtown.

On September 11, at 7 p.m. at City Hall, the agency will conduct a workshop on the future of downtown’s redevelopment and how it will use an anticipated $52 million in future revenue. This may be the last opportunity for the City Council to put the Redevelopment Agency back on course and ensure that affordable housing dollars are used for housing affordable to low-income households. Please attend and urge them to do so.