Scattered approach

Downtown councilman questions whether a master-leasing shelter program will make an already struggling Section 8 program even less effective

This story has been expanded from its print version.

A City Hall discussion about expanding homeless shelter services led to an unexpected debate—again—about how the local housing authority distributes housing vouchers.

On Oct. 22, Councilwoman Angelique Ashby unveiled a new proposal to significantly expand “scattered site” shelters in Natomas and South Sacramento as a way of augmenting the new shelter inside the Capitol Park Hotel and two planned shelters in Oak Park and Meadowview. In her scenario, the city would administer the program through the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, or SHRA.

Scattered-site shelters are low-income apartments that SHRA would rent to families experiencing homelessness through a master-leasing program and by offering financial incentives to landlords. Ashby said she favors this approach because it’s ideal for mothers and domestic violence survivors. Her proposal would house roughly 300 individuals over two years while offering them re-housing services.

But Councilman Steve Hansen wanted more information from SHRA about the potential unintended consequences of launching an aggressive master-leasing program at a time when so few landlords accept its Housing Choice vouchers, more commonly known as Section 8. Hansen also noted that, during a joint City Council-Board of Supervisors meeting three years ago, both ordered SHRA to change a policy that excluded homeless Sacramentans from even qualifying for housing vouchers. During the same meeting, Supervisor Patrick Kennedy was highly critical of SHRA’s overall transparency.

On a similar note, Hansen said that SHRA has not provided the city with any updates since the policy change.

SHRA executive director La Shelle Dozier responded that the policy change allowed for roughly 300 vouchers to go to those on the streets since the start of 2017.

Hansen then said that he was hearing from constituents with housing vouchers who claimed they couldn’t compete with Bay Area renters moving here with their own vouchers, which are priced at that region’s fair market value—essentially allowing them to out-bid local renters.

Dozier told Hansen the voucher program does not work that way.

“Maybe it’s changed, but that’s contradictory to the information I’ve gotten before,” Hansen said.

“Well, I run the program,” Dozier shot back, drawing a reaction from the audience. “So I think I would know.”

“I know you run the program, but I hear stories from so many people who contradict what you’re saying, and I also hear from a lot of people who don’t think the agency runs the program very well,” Hansen said. “I’m trying to get to the base of this.”

Dozier told Hansen that, if his constituents are confused, they should call SHRA directly. “We can walk them through it,” she said.

Hansen responded, “Well, they contacted me, so I can contact you, and that contact is what we’re doing right now.”

That’s when Mayor Darrel Steinberg interjected. “Alright, let’s move on,” he urged.

The city is currently exploring funding options for Ashby’s scattered-site shelter proposal.