A life-changing home for homeless, working poor

A proposal is in the works to create one of the largest permanent supportive housing projects in the city.

The $41 million building at Seventh and H streets also is poised to become the city’s newest single-resident occupancy, or SRO, structure. The infill project would feature sustainable design and materials, so the developers and architects will ask the U.S. Green Building Council to certify it as a sustainable building.

But perhaps most unique about the public-private project being developed by Mercy Housing and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency is that it would offer support services to formerly homeless people in innovative and mixed-population permanent housing. Its architects are Mogavero Notestine Associates of Sacramento and SERA Architects of Portland.

Half of the mid-rise’s 150 units will be set aside as for homeless people. The other half will become home to the working poor: low-income workers who earn 40 percent to 50 percent of the median income, or $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

The 7th and H Mixed-Use Affordable Housing project differs from transitional housing, such as Mercy Housing’s Quinn Cottages, which provide up to two years of transitional housing close to downtown.

"We (represent) that next step, to what is now permanent supportive housing. You don’t have to leave," said Rich Ciraulo, project manager for Mercy Housing in West Sacramento. "Instead, you are put in an environment where there are a lot of supportive services and community building, and an attempt to really support your reconnection to the rest of society."

Supportive programs will focus on health, education, community integration and finances.

An on-site 3,800-square-foot, federally qualified health clinic will serve residents and the public. The Effort, a Sacramento nonprofit health services provider, will operate primary health and behavioral health services.

Doctors, nurses and physician assistants will provide health screenings, immunizations, lab work and other medical care. At least one licensed clinical social worker will provide therapeutic counseling and recovery support groups will have a space to meet.

Mercy Services Corporation will handle property management. Three on-site resident service coordinators, working as case managers, will connect tenants with community resources and on-site services.

By working with other service organizations, the service coordinators will identify people who qualify as homeless. They would come directly from transitional housing, including emergency shelters, or off the street. Tenants for other units would have to qualify based on income, Ciraulo said.

Two property managers will also work on site. The building’s entrance will be secure, with tenants and guests checking in with 24-hour front desk clerks.

Residents will have access to tutoring, computer classes and leadership training, as well as career counseling and financial literacy and planning. They also will have opportunities to work within the broader community via volunteering, community watch groups and other programs. An on-site job-training program is being explored, Ciraulo said.

Public spaces are vital for building a sense of community and encouraging people to get out of their units and interact with neighbors, he said.

Inside, the project’s public-space centerpiece will be a community room with an adjacent communal kitchen — a large gathering place where residents can hang out and bond at events like Thanksgiving dinner. Three smaller lounges will be on alternating floors of the eight-story building.

"You really want to feel like you’re invested in where you live and who your neighbors are, and like this is a very special place to live," Ciraulo said.

Outside public spaces also will improve residents’ quality of life and give them access to fresh air in private settings, he said. Two second-floor roof gardens will be for residents’ exclusive use. Each lounge will have a balcony facing Seventh Street.

The building also will have a computer room. While some money has been budgeted for equipment, Mercy Housing is trying to get computers donated.

Mercy is proposing ground-floor retail such as a cafe or bakery, that would be an amenity to the neighborhood, Ciraulo said.

The project is being designed to fill a gap in care for homeless people who were getting help with health, mental health and substance abuse issues while on the street. Tenants will be able to receive those services onsite instead or be connected with new services.

"It’s really critical that services are matched if you’re trying to house homeless or formerly homeless people," said Tim Brown, director of Sacramento Steps Forward, a nonprofit formerly known as the Ending Chronic Homelessness Initiative.

The project also is designed to help people working at low-wage jobs downtown by providing housing close to their jobs, Ciraulo said.

Sacramento has some mixed-population, supportive-housing developments, such as one near Arden Fair Mall. This one is being modeled after Portland’s Richard L. Harris Building at 8 NW 8th St., which has won awards for affordable housing innovations and integrating housing and social services. SERA Architects designed that project.

The building is intended to create 122 of the 200 SRO units the city must replace by 2011, under its own ordinance, said Christine Weichert, assistant director of housing and community development for SHRA.

Sitting behind the Sacramento County Jail, the project at Seventh and H streets would include 122 studios measuring 325 square feet that rent for $206 to $581, and 28 one-bedroom units for $207 to $619. Both would have full kitchens and bathrooms, unlike standard SROs, which usually have kitchenettes and communal bathrooms, Ciraulo said.

Rent will be income-based. Mercy Housing will target people on Social Security or disability for most units. Whether tenants are formerly homeless or low-wage workers, they will pay 30 percent of their income, he said.

In the 1970s, Sacramento had about 3,000 SRO units. A 2006 city ordinance called for no net loss of the remaining 712 SRO units.

"Preservation of the SROs is vital to including a much-needed piece in the housing continuum," said Sandra Hamameh, program director for the Sacramento Housing Alliance.

Proposals call for the project to be largely publicly funded. Mercy, which is quite possibly the largest provider of service-enriched housing in the area, and SHRA are going after local, state and federal funding, including highly competitive federal tax credits, Weichert said.

Several sources will pay for services, including public funding and fund raising. Community services will be used as much as possible, and some services — such as those for resident service coordinators — will be integrated into the building’s operating budget. About 15 percent of the operating costs would be set aside for services, Ciraulo said.

The city’s Planning Commission is set to give final approval to the project May 6. The Sacramento City Council is expected to be asked to provide some funding at a June meeting, said Weichert, adding that the amount will be determined within two weeks.

Developers hope to have financing in place by September. If so, construction could begin by February. The building would be expected to open by October 2013.

With its mix of housing and support services, the project would keep a wider range of people with different income levels downtown, said Robert Tobin, president and chief executive officer of Cottage Housing, which operates the Quinn Cottages at 16th and North A streets.

"This is a population that is vulnerable," he said. "It really helps if you can have some support on site."

Graphic provided by Mercy Housing. Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter covering business and development for The Sacramento Press.

Read more about what defines affordable housing here

Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

May 4, 2010 | 8:53 AM

The building, its features, and the ideas associated with it are all very interesting, but I very much share Paul Carhartt’s concerns. Five years after its built and occupied, what will it be like? Will it be a pleasant place for the residents? or will it be noisy and unsafe?

Also, poor people vary. A sense of community cannot be imposed. Some people who would become residents will be private and quiet and others noisy and obnoxious. Making the place where you live (and for many that’s where you get away from everything) also the central place for socializing isn’t what most people want. That is not the kind of life that most people seek for themselves. For many it’s best not to know one’s neighbors very well.

July 9, 2011 | 9:29 PM

“The Homeless” are used to community as they really watch out for each other! When I was homeless, other homeless people HELPED me more than strangers on the street. I think the thing to remember is that this wonderful building will be putting a ROOF OVER THEIR HEADS!

May 4, 2010 | 12:32 PM

These are very real and valid concerns that have not proven to be the case in the other project mentioned in the article for which Mercy Housing was the developer & ongoing property manager.

Quinn Cottages has been operating a dozen years as a transtional housing project, and most visitors today say it’s a place they wouldn’t mind living … the only real test of a housing program.

Our community is lucky to have such capabilities!

May 4, 2010 | 3:02 PM

A well written informative article, first of all. Exactly the non-BEE stuff I like to see on SacPress.

“A sense of community cannot be imposed.” -Tom Armstrong
Thank you Tom, that brilliant statement need be the only words in your post or mine, but as pontificators are wont to do:

As (above) poster Tom states, as succinctly as any of our founders and framers, pride in and duty to your community cannot be installed into you like some factory option. I won’t pretend to continue speaking for Tom as I continue, but I hope he agrees.

Ownership in private property – be that time, money, land, a car, or any other liberty – due you because you worked for it and earned it inspires the pride that only ownership may provide. People are inherantly selfish which may strike some as an accusation. I suggest you could as soon accuse fish of being wet – a fact but hardly worth discussing. We are not merely selfish and are not always selfish but to overlook it is to misunderstand the fundamental nature of man.

Overlooking this fundamental nature, socialism is derived from the notion that – if you instill in people the sense of community (something we know you cannot do) – that each will work toward the common good.
Thus, these projects where residents AND organizers are expected to respect something which they do not own, to help their fellow man when they generally lack enough help for themselves. Essentially, to spend other people’s money and time as wisely as if it were their own.
Experience has proven (with generations worth of evidence) that they do not respect these things. Without constant taxpayer money used actively and efficiently to look after the residents (people who should be learning to look after themselves) these projects fail. This is not my wish, or schadenfreude … it’s just true.

I sincerely hope this is different. It sounds as though the planning around the edges on this one is better than average, though I feel the fundamental concept is as flawed as it has ever been. I’m going to allow my hopes to ride on this one and will donate 2 computers to their lab as well when its finished.
I think if this one fails, however – we’d have to say there is simply no good way to do this.
I’d personally like to see a halfway-house style project where half the units are low-rent for low income families (who must supplement with community chore-work on the project) and half are for jobless/homeless participants who MUST study and work (for their own benefit, to obtain marketable skill) to retain housing.

May 4, 2010 | 8:57 PM

Gee, so I guess we shouldn’t attempt such projects at all, given such potential sustainability impediments…

It’s all fine to express platitudes about ‘those other’ people, but ALL humans are pretty much driven by the same needs and desires — a roof and a meal and the basics of life… All else is fluff…

But also we ALL have the same proclivities — some have energies and talents that are superior in one area, others have strengths in other areas — it’s in the pooling of such benefits that we create a sustainable community and thus civilization….

‘Pride of ownership’ is to the extent that we can all express that ‘we did this thing ourselves’, and not merely bloviated it into being by stating something like — “there, you poor people, make it work, but we’re not going to help you….”…

“It takes a village” to MAKE a village with all the human dimensions possible — the more the merrier — rather than an elite proclaiming its superiority over others who may be weaker and/or have strengths that are latent or in areas not as obvious as others, including those who have been defined by our current social complexities as somehow unworthy…

We are ALL ‘worthy’….

May 5, 2010 | 2:50 AM

Someone once responded to one of your posts that you were an unalterable hatemonger with nothing better to do that crap on every single comment you find.
I thought then that they were exaggerating and should have apologized but now I see they had probably read more of your posts than I had at the time. You are every bit as small as they insinuated. Try reading my post again to see if you can actually find a reason to accuse me of the thinking you’ve ascribed to me. Better yet, stop commenting on every single thread in the entire site or at least try responding to the content rather than slinging generic sarcasm.

May 17, 2010 | 4:37 PM

“They quarrel, who cannot argue” -GK Chesterton

May 9, 2010 | 10:29 AM

This project will primarily make huge profits for the Homeless Industrial Complex and the those that suck at the teet of huge no-bid-insider-good-o’l-boy-government-contracts.

Smaller, dispursed co-op living would be more effective and would distribute the concentration of the homeless. This format has worked well in other communites that have tried it.

May 9, 2010 | 2:29 PM

I think there’s a role for both, a focused ‘center’ of sorts providing intensive services for the homeless who need many kinds of help, as well as decentralized basic housing and income services, for those needing less, Certainly the preponderance of need is in the latter category, but for many, a focused program could be more effective to stem what currently seems to be a system with disparate services all loosely associated with no focused effort on permanency.

Hopefully both working in concert with stop this problem more effectively than the current hodge podge.

Avatar of tab
May 9, 2010 | 4:06 PM

I am disabled and was close to living in a card board box on the river. This is the best offer for the homeless i have seen since living in Sacramento. Why are most of you dragging a gift horse in the mouth thru the wastelands?. Why such negativity to those who want to help the homeless? You disgust me. I applaud Mercy and those who want to make a difference in our community and to help the homeless and disabled. This is the best of the best and I hope this becomes a reality. I understand everyone’s concern above, but the bottom line is “lets go with the flow and handle any problems if any when they arise after the building is built. How about it guys? Thank you Suzsanne for the best article you have ever written. And thanks to the gentleman who wants to donate computers, your the greatest. I am so excited for the homeless and those caring individuals who want to help them with a hand up. This is a gift from heaven.

May 9, 2010 | 4:20 PM

I wonder if the perceptual problem is that to some, there seems to be an awful lot of money being thrown at the problem of homelessness, and to the issue of poverty and all its cultural components altogether, when so little seems to result, with particular attention to permanency.

I believe this focused approach is a good one, and will help many, by concentrating gateway housing and necessary services in one place, providing comprehensive services rather than leaving the homeless individual to fend for themselves in seeking currently disparate services. This program I believe will put such services at arm’s length, and help immeasurably those for whom reaching out to such ancillary services is currently made much harder.

But I also believe, as stated earlier, and as someone else stated, that more permanent long-term housing, for those in need of shelter alone, rather than comprehensive intervention, would be qualitatively better if disperately located and not concentrated in one place. To place all such persons in one place could ghettoize an area and not aid the stemming of cultural issues which contribute to homelessness.

May 9, 2010 | 9:03 PM

TAB it is not a gift from heaven it is a gift from the tax payers.

I have long been an advocate for the homeless; I myself mave been homeless. However I am also an advocate of pragmatic and realistic solutions that don’t stick it to the tax payer. These are not mutually exclusive propositions either.

A huge homeless megaplex will have HUGE overhead that will necessitate decades of tax dollars to support – eventually costing HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of our tax dollars. It will also create an insane bureaucracy that will probably cause almost as many problems as they solve. It would be cheaper to simply purchase hotels or apartment complexes on the open market.

America’s Homeless Industrial Complex (HID) is a mutli-billiuon dollar racket that has a very low success rate. The do gooders that typiclly are involved, are mostly concerned about job security and expansion of programs so they can get a raise. This project will do little or nothing to adress the issue of chronic homlessness. The chronic homless, at best may stay a short time, but when they have to follow any rules they will go back outside.

One has to feel sorry for the poor suckers that own homes in the neighborhood – their property values are going to plummet now that the neighborhood has been identified.

May 9, 2010 | 9:51 PM

Having worked in places like this, some people who live there become involved in the community, if there is a place for it to occur, while others generally keep to themselves. Having some kind of facilitation of community, either in the form of community events, or classes, or meals on holidays, or even just a lobby for people to hang out, can help them better places to live. Simply because not everyone will choose to participate doesn’t mean things like community rooms don’t have a role.

It would be nice to think that anyone who moves into this building is someone who could be retrained back into the workforce, but that isn’t necessarily the case. How would an 80 year old who needs a walker or wheelchair to get around be retrained into the workforce? Many people in SROs are just able to be independent with Social Security or SSI, but not able to return to work. It is nice to have the option, for those that can take advantage of it.

The intent of this sort of building is to create permanent housing for people whose housing options are now sharply limited–so limited that millions have no housing at all. It is a housing type that has long been demonized, even though it was once very abundant in every city, even cities far smaller than Sacramento, because it filled an essential economic role. Residential hotels were so demonized that people assumed that their very existence created poor people (even though residential hotels weren’t always just for the poor)–and by demolishing them, we wouldn’t have poor people anymore! But what happened was the housing was demolished and replaced with nothing, and millions simply lost their homes, creating a new, permanent, dehumanized underclass–the homeless.

Creating more housing like this turns the homeless back into human beings. Someone living in a unit like this isn’t homeless anymore–they have a home. It may not be much, just a studio or a small one-bedroom, but it’s enough to call home.

This is a 150 unit complex–hardly a huge megaplex. We could use a baker’s dozen such units in the central city (and maybe a few in surrounding neighborhoods, if we could find any that wouldn’t howl in horror at the very concept), to replace the several thousand residential units that have been lost through the past few decades, along with the thousands of units of housing across the economic spectrum that will be needed to finish the process of breathing life back into Sacramento’s downtown.

I do agree with Jim’s point above: it is far simpler and often cheaper to make use of existing residential units than building new buildings from scratch. A lot of currently-vacant office space downtown used to be residential hotels, or higher-class hotels shifted to residential hotel use, that is currently underutilized or even sitting vacant, could be converted back into residential space. Several existing residential hotels are sitting vacant and should be converted back to residential use–the Ridgeway, the Clinton, the Wendell, the Biltmore.

But I’d disagree with his assumption about the neighborhood. The building’s immediate neighbors are the city main jail, the law library, an electrical substation, a parking structure, and a parking lot. It’s a couple blocks from the Alkali Flat neighborhood, which is a neighborhood definitely in need of more housing and already very affected by homeless folks.

May 9, 2010 | 11:56 PM

I admire your compassion and sensibility.

May 10, 2010 | 6:24 AM

Looking at the math – $41 million for 150 units = almost $280,000 per unit in a town where a 1200 SF 3 bedroom home can be easily purchased for $100-140,000, and a condo can be purchased for under $50,000 – and they could easily be managed by SHRA which already has 3-6000 units (they are hard to nail down on how many units they have, they don’t like people to know – even when they are given a public records request)

Also keep in mind that in government – budgets NEVER are accurate so the $41 million will end up costing $60 Million – which most likely will be fully financed via future TIF revenue – which means interest on the $40-60 million – which means $100 million for the building – not including maintenance and upkeep.

SHRA will forgive most if not all of the loans = But taxpayers will be left holding th bag and paying off Mercy’s building in full (they do this in almost every transaction they do) = The taxpayers paying $400,000 + per unit when it’s all said and done.

Kinda makes me want to become homeless.

May 13, 2010 | 1:56 PM

So what could you guys get behind – I think I understand your objections – gift of a home vs. earning it; total reliance on taxpayer dollars vs. a plan of long range sustainability – what else would you need to see in order to support a housing initiative? What works?

May 18, 2010 | 9:57 AM

Your question seems to be “how can I gloss over these 2 things – pride of ownership and long term sustainability (since those will never happen) and what more icing can be put on to make it work, regardless?” but I just don’t think it will.
As I say – I’m not trying to doom it by my skepticism and I wish it would work. I wish you could instill values into people but some don’t want to learn how to fish.
On the edges this project seems to have dreamt new icing I hadn’t considered… icing which might make this one edible regardless of the cake and I applaud that.

May 17, 2010 | 11:14 PM

Don’t get me wrong I’m ALL FOR getting the homeless off the street, BUT who decided they get to live in brand new cool digs downtown, so near a new supposedly classy development?

The worse part of this whole misguided idea is that there’s an effort to build out the train station into a cool biz, shop, residential area; and the first thing you do is build a homeless place and health clinic right at the edge of the new development?

Make up your mind – do you want to redevelop downtown or just perpetuate the down trodden nature of it? True redevelopment calls for guts, hard decisions, and a determined vision – not cow towing to squeaky advocates and opportunistic developers.

There’s a level of incompetence here that boggles the mind. These folks are going to be on SSI they are NOT going to be working and therefore have NO NEED to be in the downtown area at all. They can live anywhere, and you can build that clinic anywhere; so why would you park it at the edge of a planned redevelopment?

If you want to bring more young professionals and freshly retired people to the downtown area you need to move the SRO’s out away from the redevelopment. This land has become too valuable for such a purpose. Lot’s of hard working people can’t afford to live in new digs downtown – none of whom by the way would pay $500 for a 325 sq ft studio in a bldg half full of formerly homeless people. The point is – living in new digs downtown is NOT a right and should not be deemed as such by the powers that be. I would like to know more about this Portland project like what neighborhood it went into, and how the surrounding area was effected by its presence.

Also, How many of these folks are bleeding over from West Sac due to their redevelopment?

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