Last week the Elk Grove City Council held a special meeting to talk about homelessness in the city and housing affordability.
City staff member, Sarah Bontrager, Housing and Public Services Manager, made a presentation at the meeting and gave the council some information on housing prices in the city. The median home price in Elk Grove is $420,000. The median rent in Elk Grove is $1600. That number is affected by subsidized rents. The market rate rent in the city is $1700-1900. She said the city has a large unmet need for low and very low income housing. There are two low income apartment complexes that will be available this year, but overall the city lagging behind what it needs.
Bontrager also discussed the effect that housing prices are having an impact on housing availability. She mentioned that most new home subdivisions are building homes over 2000 square feet and there is not much available for purchase for those with moderate income or less. Construction costs more as well as the cost of land and development fees. As the economy strengthens, vacancy rates drop, rental rates go up.
Between July and December, 2017, 331 homeless persons were recorded in the city of Elk Grove. 95 people were contacted by the police. 500 calls were handled by police that were related to the homeless. The city cleaned up 30 encampments. The city is working with local groups like Elk Grove HART, and the Elk Grove Food Bank among others.
The city received a grant from the state of California for $5 million.
From the staff report:
In November 2017, the Council approved usage of the funds for a range of activities encompassing about $4 million of the $5 million allocation:
1. Navigation Team – $1,500,000 over 10 years
The navigation team will provide proactive outreach to homeless persons, assisting them with gaining entry to the City’s navigation hubs and other social services for which they may be eligible. The navigation team will be comprised of:
• A full-time navigator
• A full or part-time POP officer
• A full- or part-time mental health clinician
The team in place currently includes a full-time navigator and a part- time POP officer. Staff is recommending that a POP officer dedicated to homelessness be allocated on a full-time basis as part of the FY 2018-19 Budget.
Partnership on mental health services is underway. In the early part of 2018, staff approached Sacramento County’s Division of Behavioral Health Services and advocated for establishment of a Mobile Crisis Support Team locally, which would provide a licensed mental health clinician and a peer counselor to work with our Police Department. Recently staff received notification that the County plans to move forward with allocating a local Mobile Crisis Support Team, with the City contributing some funds for start-up costs.
2. Navigation Hubs – $1,000,000 for acquisition/rehab and $1,000,000 for operations over 10 years
The Council approved funding the acquisition/rehabilitation and 10- year operating costs of two, single-family properties to serve as navigation hubs, each of which would have private bedrooms and shared kitchen and restroom facilities. One navigation hub was intended to serve families, with the second navigation hub serving primarily single adults.
In February 2018, the Council approved acquisition of a property on Moon Creek Way to serve as a navigation hub for families. Staff is currently working with Bardis Homes, which has offered to complete substantial rehab work on the home at their cost. The purchase of the Moon Creek property encountered substantial neighborhood opposition, and purchase of a property for the navigation hub for single adults was put on hold pending further discussion with the Council.
3. Exit Assistance – $500,000
In order to assist persons residing at the navigation hubs to achieve permanent housing, the Council approved creation of a general exit assistance program in the form of a limited-term subsidy, landlord incentive, etc., to be implemented on an individualized basis. Staff has reviewed many models in use in other jurisdictions, and is currently surveying landlords on their preferences and the feasibility of implementing various strategies locally. Ultimately, a program will be brought forward to the Council for approval.
At the November meeting, the Council also asked staff to explore other options for housing homeless households, particularly those exiting transitional housing, including the use of tiny homes. A total of $1 million of the State appropriation was left unallocated pending further discussion.
The city is looking into the “tiny home” concept. There are several types and classifications. They could be used as permanent housing, or transitional housing. The homes could be mobile or permanent. They may or may not have plumbing or electricity. As part of the staff report, staff visited two tiny home communities in Texas. One near Austin was entirely privately funded. The second one was near Dallas and was funded by a private and public partnership.
For the “RV model”, which would be a tiny home that would connect to public sewer and water, staff said the cost per unit would be around $40,000 for the fees associated with that. Operating costs could be around $7000 per unit annually when services are included.
When asked about whether there has been an increase in homeless in Elk Grove, Bontrager said that the homeless population has increased the past 5 years. She was also asked if Elk Grove is getting homeless from other areas coming to Elk Grove, and she said that she felt Elk Grove has a net loss, meaning that more homeless are leaving and going to other areas, than are coming here.
During council deliberation, City Council member Steve Detrick repeated his comment from a previous council meeting that he feels there needs to be a regional approach to the problem that involved the entire Sacramento area. Detrick has said that the community needs to be more involved as well, with family members and friends helping those in need. Detrick suggested using existing county facilities such as the Boys Ranch.
City Council member Stephanie Nguyen said that in her position with Asian Resources Inc, that she works with homeless and that many are suffering from mental illness. She also said that she would like to see the focus be on temporary housing to help the homeless get on their feet to move on to more permanent housing, so that they could help the next family. She also wanted to focus on reaching people before they become homeless.
Vice Mayor Darren Suen said he is open to the tiny homes concept, but would like to see more information on the operational costs associated with the tiny homes. He also wanted to emphasize the link of the homeless to their ties to Elk Grove.
Pat Hume said he researched the current availability of homes in the area and found that there were no homes under $300,000 and wondered how people of moderate income could afford to buy a home. He echoed the sentiments of Nguyen and said he wanted to provide temporary housing for those in need to help them move up to more permanent housing. He said he would like to see a public/private partnership, with the city fronting the costs to set up housing but relying more in private entities to help provide the operational costs. He also wanted to look more into the tiny homes.
Mayor Steve Ly said he would like to emphasize the feeling of the community and integrating the homeless into the community and not putting them into areas where they would be stigmatized. He did not support using something like the Boys Ranch, which he called a prison with barbed wires and fences.
Ly and Suen supported buying another home in an existing development to use for a home for homeless singles, but the other three council members did not support that. Council gave the city staff direction to continue looking into tiny homes, and also partnering with developers to have some sort of homeless feature integrated into future multi family housing projects.