In 2018, the state of California edged out the United Kingdom to become the fifth largest economy in the world. California alone accounts for 14% of the U.S. economy, but after factoring in the cost of living, it remains one of the poorest states in the country. Census data shows that 12.8% of Californians live below the poverty line, while the national average is 11.8%. Reasons for this include the state’s average rent prices, restrictive laws against affordable housing and extremely high sales and property tax rates. Many Californians are also still suffering from the effects of systemic racism both historically and presently.
The Sacramento Housing Alliance (SHA) was created in 1998 with the mission to advocate for affordable housing, services and amenities for low-income communities. In 2000, SHA successfully defended the City of Folsom’s inclusionary housing ordinance from being eliminated. In 2017, the organization advocated successfully for Sacramento County to allocate all of its 2017 Redevelopment Property Tax Revenue to homelessness initiatives.
In this Q&A, SHA Policy Director Veronica Beaty discusses the importance of affordable housing and the organization’s recent policy objectives.
What brought you to SHA and policy advocacy for people experiencing homelessness?
I had been interested in housing and homelessness advocacy since I was small, but mostly from a safe place perspective — Habitat for Humanity builds and soup kitchens. When I got into college, I got really excited about public policy as a way of solving some of the problems that make these things necessary. Like why do we need to have a soup kitchen instead of everyone having food in the first place — and not having to come to a church basement for it. I got excited about a lot of the urban planning issues around that. Around the same time, the foreclosure crisis hit and my family lost their home. I was like – what good is all this policy learning if its not able to help the people that I love stay housed? That’s what drew me to housing advocacy.
One of SHA’s guiding principles is that “the solution to homelessness is homes.” Can you further explain this idea and why SHA has chosen this solution over other methods? (workforce development, temporary housing, education, etc…)
I think the zeitgeist is moving in the direction of accepting permanent affordable housing as a homelessness solution. But we often times see a lot of haggling and resources directed to services for folks on the streets or, as you say, putting money into transitional housing. But ultimately, transitional housing is predicated on having a place to transition to. If all you have is transitional housing and market-rate housing, often times people don’t have a chance to compete in the market, but have to move on from their transitional housing because its a requirement of their stay. They end up falling back into homelessness.
Transitional housing works well for a very narrow portion of the population. But another problem is that when we think about people having homes, it’s more than just having a roof over their heads. You’re also building communities and you want to have some stability in that. So, again, if you’re putting a time limit on how long someone can be in their home, you’re not letting them put roots down and build communities. This is much more possible in permanent affordable housing.
Can you give more insight into SHA’s push for policymakers to address systemic racism and how this contributes to the homelessness crisis in California?
Pretty much any of the housing affordability and homelessness issues we know of disproportionately impact people of color. Women of color, in particular, are three times as likely as White men to be severely cost burdened in the rental market in Sacramento. The folks living in shelters are disproportionately Black and Brown. The folks who end up dying while being homeless, again, disproportionately Black and Brown. And we also try at SHA to take a view that encompasses how many of these [policy] decisions have created the housing market we see now. Some neighborhoods that we work in were directly redlined and continue to be underinvested in. These [policy] decisions reinscribe a lot of the racial disparities we see in Sacramento and this is particularly true in the housing market.
As far as investments in housing access, community safety, healthy foods and community self-determination, what are the greatest limitations for California?
I think that this ties back into dealing with historical and current racism and a sense that communities don’t know what’s best for them. That they need to be planned for by either the technocratic class or that the market will take care of people in a way that it does not — and has not. This ties into underfunding affordable housing and the sense of market-based solutions being able to deal with affordability issues on the backend. Similarly with food access, in a lot of cases, jurisdiction [doesn’t] allow you to have a garden in your backyard. So, you are cutting off self-sufficiency in a particular neighborhood in that sense. At the same time, you are not paying attention to what kinds of restaurants and grocery stores are being permitted for, neglecting to find places with food deserts and swamps that the city could direct more public resources for better food access to … often not listening to community concerns there and not taking them seriously enough to back them up with public investment.
Can you give some background to the development of the city of Sacramento’s Affordable Housing Fund?
A couple of the city council members have proposed a bond measure for affordable housing. That’s something that SHA has been advocating for a long time, because we’ve lost so much state revenue and local revenue for affordable homes. We need to build more affordable housing and we can’t do that without some pretty substantive investments at the local level. This would be the first major proposal to come out of that advocacy on the local level.
Are you familiar with Senator Maxine Waters’ Ending Homelessness Act? What effect do you believe this piece of legislation will have on your work in the community?
It’s always exciting to see more federal resources especially when it comes to construction of affordable housing — also including some new vouchers, which is cool. The problem with being in Sacramento is that there is still a fair amount of discrimination against voucher holders. It’s useful to get more housing choice vouchers. Some folks have success with it, but often times it is difficult to find landlords that will accept them. It has been working locally, and to a lesser extent at the state and federal level. Protecting vouchers as a source of income stops [voucher holders] from being discriminated against in that way. This has worked for other assistance programs, but has not been established for housing choice vouchers.
Can you explain the goal of the Sacramento Community Stabilization & Fair Rent Charter Amendment?
[The amendment] would stabilize rent at the consumer price index and provide eviction protection in the form of a Just Cause ordinance. This means that your landlord has to tell you why you are being evicted. In some circumstances, if it’s not something that is your fault, then you’d be eligible for relocation benefits. Those relocation benefits would be more generous if you’re someone who would have more difficulty finding a place — such as seniors and folks with disabilities. [It also] calls for the creation of an elected rent board to oversee the operations of the program.
Talk about what is meant by “A Competitive Sacramento.” What factors contribute to Sacramento’s lack of competitiveness in the affordable housing market?
Competitive Sacramento is really a catchall for a lot of the work we do around making sure that state funding programs, in particular, are adapting to the needs of Sacramento and regions like Sacramento. In terms of our funding programs, urban areas can outcompete Sacramento pretty handily. The Bay Area and LA are really well equipped because they have a lot of developers working. They have, for example, good transit systems and some programs allocate more points towards competitiveness for funding if you are adjacent to high-quality transit. Sacramento has a pretty limited geography. In some cases, there are programs that solve that problem by having rural areas set aside. There are programs where because big cities are competing handily, they arrange it so that rural cities are not competing with them. They are in their own silo of the available funding. But then it leaves out large, but not so large areas like Sacramento. We look to weigh in on these guidelines, particularly state programs, to correct for that.
Alexandria Robinson was a summer intern for NCRC’s Communications and Development teams.