The Public Effort

Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency’s La Shelle Dozier on efforts to increase affordable housing

Back Q&A Jan 21, 2019 By Sena Christian

In 2008, La Shelle Dozier became executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, which serves as the joint powers housing authority for both the City and the County. SHRA administers local, state and federal affordable housing programs. Additionally, the agency acts as a landlord, owning and operating over 3,000 units. Comstock’s spoke with Dozier about efforts to drive more affordable housing in the Sacramento area.

We know there’s a need for more housing in our region. What are the key demographics within that group and how might their needs differ?

We see housing across a continuum that’s needed. Not only do we need housing at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of affordability, we also have to provide workforce housing — people who may be earning minimum wage, but still need resources to help with their housing. We need housing for what we call that missing middle; those are people who are working and doing OK, but are still struggling because they’re paying more than half of their income toward rent. We have to look at it too from the homeownership perspective, where we’re helping get families into homes and stabilized over the long-term, because we know homeownership builds wealth for families over a long period of time. Throughout that entire continuum, from someone who is homeless all the way up to homeownership, we see that there’s a need.

How many people are currently on the waiting list for the subsidized housing as part of the Housing Choice Voucher Program?

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, we open usually every 2-3 years, depending on how many available slots we see coming up. We do that so we don’t have people on the list for a very, very long time. The last time we opened, we received over 40,000 people who applied, but we only accepted 10,000 onto the waiting list. Once we work through that, we’ll open the list again. On our public housing side, the list is open. We have various waiting lists depending on the [number] of bedrooms, as well as what area of town. That list is much longer, and we have over 22,000 [applicants].

We are excited about developers who are coming to Sacramento and are going to provide affordable housing, and we are going to make that as easy as possible, and waiving fees is huge.

In our Housing Choice Voucher Program, there are 13,000 families that participate in that program — 40 percent of them have a female head of household; 30 percent are elderly; 68 percent have a disabled family member; and 57 percent are families with children. On average, between our two programs — our Housing Choice Voucher and public housing — a family of three has an income of about $13,000 a year. So these are people who are really really struggling and obviously in need of assistance.

What other options exist for people who are on a waiting list?

For people, when they need housing they need it now. I would hope that as part of these new funding sources [from the state and federal government] … that we can use more funds toward what we call rapid rehousing. Rapid rehousing really allows us to catch people, provide some level of assistance for a shorter period of time, until they can get back on their feet and stabilize until they don’t need assistance. If we can increase [funding], I think that will be much more helpful to get people more short-term assistance, because we know that if we can intervene early and assist people, then they don’t need a long-term subsidy.

What incentives exist to drive more affordable housing in Sacramento?

The City Council really took a very progressive step [in October 2018] in terms of fees — they put together a program where they waive development fees for affordable housing, and that’s a major step and really signals to the industry that we are open for business. We are excited about developers who are coming to Sacramento and are going to provide affordable housing, and we are going to make that as easy as possible, and waiving fees is huge. That amounts to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars when it comes to putting one of these projects together, so that’s a great proactive step. At the state level is this focus on transit-oriented development and making sure that housing is located in close proximity to transportation. … We’re glad to see there have been bills focusing resources on TOD. And then the state has done some major initiatives to push out funding for homelessness [projects]. At the federal level, we’re seeing the National Housing Trust Fund has increased. It was a long time in the making, but finally in 2016, we started to see those funds come to the states. About $10 million [to California] in 2016, $23 million in 2017, $30 million in 2018, and that’s expected to grow. So we’re very excited that we will be able to access more resources.

What is the current inclusionary housing requirement for developers to provide low- to moderate-income housing in new developments in Sacramento, and how has that requirement changed in recent years?

Previously, our inclusionary requirement was that 15 percent would go toward affordable housing. Then as everyone knows during the Great Recession, no housing was being built. So one of the things the City and County looked at was: How can we make things easier for developers to get back into the game? So the inclusionary changed from a flat 15 percent to a fee based on how large the development is, how many units are going to be built, and those fees then go into one big pot that we use to do gap financing.

That’s where a developer may come in and want to provide affordable housing but he has a gap in terms of the amount of money to make the project a go; we come in and provide financing for that gap. In exchange, we receive a long-term commitment for affordability on those units, up to 55 years.

What more is needed from the public sector to ensure that public and private sectors are maximizing their impact?

One of the things that probably most people don’t realize is that in order to do affordable housing, it really does require a public and private partnership. It’s not something that can be done by government alone. What has to happen on the government side is we need to be sensitive and hear what is needed: What do developers need? What are barriers to them getting into affordable housing? Our responsibility is to provide a high level of good customer service, a high level of understanding that time is money. Projects need to move fast and we have to make sure that process is very streamlined, and to bring the resources to the table.

It’s a tough time to be a prospective first-time homebuyer due to low inventory for entry-level priced homes. What programs does SHRA offer to assist these homebuyers?

We have a first-time homebuyer assistance program … geared toward low-income individuals who fall within the income brackets that have been established. In addition, we have homes that were a part of our inventory that had fallen into some level of disrepair, so we [are doing] a total rehab of those units, to bring them up to pristine quality in condition, and those are only reserved for low-income buyers through what we call our Welcome Home Program. One individual had made over a hundred offers, until finally they found out about this program, because they were constantly being beat out by investors. They were able to get in and get their first home.

What’s the status of the Twin Rivers public housing redevelopment project?

That’s my favorite project. Twin Rivers is an exciting opportunity we’ve been working on for a very, very long time, and things are finally starting to move. It is a development that has been there for over 70 years … in the middle of this industrial area [north of downtown] is a housing complex — 218 public housing units. Our goal is to start over because the housing had gotten to a situation where we needed to stop repairing it and to demolish and start over, and also grow that community in terms of density. We are going from 218 to almost 500 units, and it will be a mixed-income community. We will have some public housing, some workforce housing, some market rate housing all intermixed, so there is no ‘that’s where those people live.’ It’s a total new community that will be anchored by a new transit stop. We’ve been working closely with RT and looking at different ways where people will be able to get around that neighborhood — a light rail stop, ridership-on-demand, Jump bikes, you name it, we will want to include that as cutting-edge ways of mobility for individuals who move into this development. All the people who live there are relocated and will have first opportunity to return as we build out the phases.

Can you break down the estimated $310 million price tag?

I know sometimes when people hear the cost it’s sticker shock, in terms of, ‘How could it cost that much?’ When in reality, we’re not just building housing; we’re really recreating an entire neighborhood and subdivision. We have to put in new streets, the infrastructure has to be totally gutted and start over because it’s crumbling. It’s also bringing in new parks, playgrounds, tree canopy, the multi-modal transit stop, all of those things go into transforming this into a neighborhood revitalization.

Six years after the dissolution of redevelopment agencies in California in 2012, as you look back now, what do you see as the biggest impact of the decision to eliminate these agencies?

In the entire time that I’ve worked at SHRA, I’d say that was one of the most difficult days, to really wrap our minds around the fact that redevelopment had gone away, and that this tool — that was the most innovative way to address blighted neighborhoods, community revitalization and, most importantly, affordable housing — was gone. I had colleagues all across the nation that were envious of California for our tax-increment financing under redevelopment. I think it was obviously a step in the wrong direction. In looking back, we could have done things differently that may have prevented that outcome from happening. But trying to be positive and look forward, I think that we need to take the lessons learned and take all of the best of redevelopment that needs to go into ‘Redevelopment 2.0’ and come up with what it should look like going forward. I’m very optimistic and hopeful as there’s a change in the administration. There’s already been a lot of discussion about what a new redevelopment should look like, and we obviously want to be very much at the table giving our input.