This grow house
City of Sacramento and Habitat for Humanity partner to revitalize homes that were once used for illegal cannabis operations
With homeownership rates in Sacramento at their lowest since the 1940s and about 1,000 illegal grow houses in the county, the city has come up with quite the clever solution, one to both revitalize these structures and make a dent in the affordable housing crisis.
“In District 6, we have about 100 grow houses,” said Councilman Eric Guerra. “Electricity is cheap, water is cheap and land is fairly cheap, so from a business standpoint it’s a good environment [for cannabis operations], but it’s a horrible thing for the community.”
And while cannabis has been legal in California since 2018, these illegal grow houses threaten the legal market, attract crime and make neighborhoods unsafe and undesirable for families.
“In 2015 and 2016, before I got elected, you could smell when the [cannabis] plants were ripe. The city was really ignoring the issue out [in District 6],” Guerra said. “In those years, we started seeing a rise in home invasions. People would smell where it was strong, and they would bust into that house or hold people hostage in hopes of getting product and cash.”
And while crime rates have dropped due to tighter police efforts, grow houses are still a major problem for the county. In the last 13 months alone, the city has collected $3.3 million in fines.
Now, there’s a plan to begin turning former grow houses into homes for deserving Habitat for Humanity families.
“Habitat for Humanity was trying to build a few homes in my district and the cost for building is about $200,000,” he said. “[You have to consider] purchasing the land, permits from the city, infrastructure, hookups and building sidewalks. I was in a meeting on affordable housing one day and their construction experts were there and I had asked if they had ever retrofitted old homes before, homes that had mold, rot” and were in a general dilapidated state.
From there, an idea sparked, one which City Attorney Susana Alcala-Wood quickly embraced. Instead of continuing to collect from those arrested and leaving the homes vacant for squatters, the properties could be gifted to a nonprofit, she decided.
Guerra and the city officials are in talks with other nonprofits as well, such as Sacramento Self Help Housing, with the hopes of transforming many of the city’s grow houses.
“We want to find affordable housing for families, for those who have aged out of foster care and who are finding themselves on the streets,” he said. “Habitat happened to have clear construction expertise, a waiting list of families and a sweat equity [policy], which builds ownership in the home and the community from day one. The stars aligned.”
“It’s a killing two birds with one stone approach,” Guerra added.
For Leah Miller, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, it has been a very exciting process.
“We are beyond thrilled to acquire these homes and rehab them to create more affordable housing options,” she said. “From our perspective, we work hard to empower as many people as we can and are always looking for out-of-the-box creative partnerships.”
According to the Sacramento Housing Alliance, there are currently 58,000 families in need in Sacramento County. Rehabilitating homes is much less expensive, about half the cost of the typical Habitat house built from scratch.
Construction work will begin in October on the first home, located in the Glen Elder neighborhood. It will go to a single mother and her three daughters.
“This single mom, she’s been working really hard to provide for her kids,” Miller said. “She moved up here from the Bay Area due to the cost of living and is now living with her mom. [With this home], she’ll be able to make the dream of home ownership permanency and stability a reality.”