Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Day that Santa Rosa Retreated

Today might become known as the day that the Santa Rosa City Council retreated.  At its Special meeting held in the Legends Restaurant at the Bennett Valley Golf Course, the Council heard from its City Manager and staff that the unexpectedly large increases in its expenses, coupled with inadequate revenue, has created permanent losses to its reserve for as far as can be projected.  Unless corrected, the City will be out of money by 2020. 
In the face of this awful news, the Council gave their approval to beginning their budget development process for the 2019-2020 fiscal year over six months early.  By this September, it hopes to begin to determine what the City’s services will look like beginning in July of 2019.  
But the planning will actually begin next Tuesday.  At their weekly meeting, they are expected to decide whether to place on the November ballot three revenue enhancements: a 25% increase in the City’s sales tax to raise $9 million per year to fund City operations, a 3% increase in the City’s Transient Occupancy Tax to raise $1.5 million per year to fund City operations, and an increase in the City property tax to provide financial resources to produce new, and preserve existing, affordable housing for households earning between 0% - 80% of Area Median Income (AMI), and affordable homeownership opportunities for households earning between 80% - 120% of AMI.
The City Manager has asked the Council to meet the budget gap between revenue and expenses by closing the gap half way with cuts in expenses, and the remainder by increases in revenue.  It is expected that voters will expect a formula of that design.
But most will admit that a retreat in the level of public services is coming.  Where the $7 million in cuts will occur is anyone’s guess, and no specifics were forthcoming today.  A series of meetings held throughout the City in th next two months will help guide the Council and staff.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lessons from Transitional Villages in Oregon and Washington

Lessons from Transitional Villages in Oregon and Washington

Scott Wagner spent 4 days in July, 2018, touring Dignity Village in Portland, and eight villages in the King County, Washington area that house about 500 people. The villages represent a broad spectrum of approaches to building and leveraging the power of community to create and maintain stability. All utilized either complete or a high degree of self-management.


-       Self-management works well if it is supported by strong, proven protocols, volunteers, and training. Most villages are led by a “Triad”, three rotating volunteers who typically manage security, outside interactions, and operations. Management is protective of and fiercely loyal to their villages; they are motivated by a deep appreciation of the value of community to clients. Villages have one or two paid staff, typically only one fulltime “case manager” targeting preparations and coordination of housing placement.

-       All villages maintain a 24 hour security watch, a single entry point, stopping and logging of all visitors, and a ‘ban list’, which helps enormously with safety issues. The security shack provides a consistent locus of community life and coordination. The constant presence of a watch helps maintain a culture of zero tolerance of violence and thievery.

-       Neighbors have a generally positive view of established villages. Mandated litter patrols, involvement in local affairs, and a tendency for villagers to work or be home (like most people) means a low and positive profile locally. Crime has decreased in most areas since village creation.

-       7 of the 9 villages visited were completely composed of insulated sheds, mostly of one design, costing about $2500 in materials. Most are funded through donation; all were constructed by volunteers and clients. All but the family units are designed to be moved by pallet jack; most arrived on a truck. They have very inexpensive built-in oil heating and electricity for lighting and charging, with solar power being implemented in stages. For some villages, infrastructure investment upfront was significant.  All villages have centralized bathroom, kitchens, and a community areas.  Most have overflow group tents for the winter to take in more of the unhoused during the night.

-       Villages are often successfully shut down or moved. Several shed villages have moved recently, with other moves planned. The oldest tent village in America (Tent Village 3, 18 years old) purposefully moves about every three months, typically adjusting the number and mix of their population each time. They do this to share the burden among sponsor organizations, to provide a wide variety of neighborhoods a positive experience of the unhoused (including litter removal in the broad area), and to keep the tent community used to the notion of minimal impact.

-       Villages are designed for different locales and emphasis, with loose focus on the aged, local people, the newly homeless, substance users, the disabled, etc. Stability and planning are enhanced when somewhat specific populations are grouped together. Villagers’ success in permanent housing placement varies in intuitive ways, depending on the population, the location, the availability of case management, and local housing funding.

-       Villages mandate about 10 hours a week in chores by all clients, and regular attendance at village meetings. Drugs and alcohol are not allowed, except in one “low barrier” village; abuse is managed by managing behavior. Most villages have problems that crop up due to drug use, but they do not dominate village life or ruin the culture they’ve developed.  

-       Villages generally cost about $300 per month per client, or $10 a day, with funding provided by a varied combination of government, grants, donation, and client rents. Costs are about 25% sewer/water/garbage, 40% staff and contract services, with the rest miscellaneous insurance, supplies, and vouchers. Tent City 3 (~100) and Dignity Village (~60) are self-funded through donations; the rest receive government support.

-        Overwhelmingly, clients prefer village life over shelter life. Client satisfaction matters greatly when trying to achieve stability and prepare for permanent housing. Because clients are in the coordinated entry system and trying to obtain permanent housing, no time limits are employed. Residents are provided equivalent access to services and permanent shelter as shelter residents, but at much less initial and ongoing cost to government, and at much higher levels of satisfaction.

Prepared for Homeless Action!  July 16, 2018 by Scott Wagner

Monday, July 9, 2018

Sonoma Region's Federal Funding Performance


These reports provide funding information for each city and state that receive CPD program funds, including Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Continuum of Care (CoC), Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG), HOME, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), and Housing Trust Fund (HTF).  In the reports, each entity’s use of funding for the FY2016 year can be examined.  Comparing selected entities, one can see how our local entities spent the funds by kind of expense, by percentage targeted to those making less than 50% of Adjusted Median Income, by how much funding they did not spend (and are at risk of having to return), how many units of rental and rehab and homeownership were built, and how many people were served, and tha number of service units delivered.

My review results in a few areas of note.  The percentage spent by Santa Rosa on Public Services and Admin (George Uberti pointed this out months ago) - far above the maximum percentages (15% and 20%) - has to be explained.  The high amount of Sonoma County recapture risk, and high relative marks for Petaluma are those figures which also should be noted.   

But this report doesn’t contain any serious criticism of Sonoma, Santa Rosa, or Petaluma.  That’s reserved for the second spreadsheet, released in April (  

Our region (CA-504) scores so low in all measures, and calls into question how California’s Housing and Community Development Department (or any other California department administering new homeless funding) would look upon our area as anything but completely lacking any real ability to assist homeless to permanent housing.  California will give huge weight to these criteria in its application reviews from California counties and cities.  I’m sure that our locals will respond by saying that we’re so burdened by high rents and a lack of available land to develop.  But we aren’t alone in those conditions, and this data does not paint a picture of a strong system of care, or one that has been able to successfully transition homeless from the street to permanent housing - when compared to other regions who will be competing with us for the same money we hope to receive.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Articles on Housing First-Funded Low Cost Housing


Lately, low cost housing pushing the limits of minimum housing standards have been funded by cities and counties under their Housing First programs.  Here are some articles on those initiatives.

Can Tuff Sheds help Oakland ease the housing crisis? - June 28th, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Homeless Housing Budget Proposal

Homeless Emergency
Budget Recommendations
2018-2019 City of Santa Rosa

Despite various attempts to help and some mild success, the homeless emergency continues to exist in Santa Rosa.  
·      We have a shortage of critical shelter beds.  Officially, more than half of our homeless residents (769) sleep outside every night and, county-wide, nearly 2/3rds have no shelter.
·      Five large encampments and countless small ones have been cleared without any appreciable improvement in the number of people housed or any lessoning of the suffering of Santa Rosa’s homeless people. 
·      Last winter’s emergency shelter at the Armory cared for approximately 90 people a night, but there is no winter shelter planned for Santa Rosa this year.

There is good news.  The national affordable housing shortage and continuing numbers of homeless individuals has brought attention and some additional money to bear.  California, in particular, is providing new money for the temporary, non-standard shelter we are advocating, and they are looking for creative solutions.  With the help of city staff and non-profit partners, we anticipate bringing some of that money to Santa Rosa in order to provide higher quality emergency “stability first” shelter for many of the 769 people currently left out in the cold.   In addition we recommend a variety of policy changes to address this emergency.

We propose targeting $1.8 million in funding for immediate emergency shelter needs, using a variety of new initiatives and funding sources. We recommend that $310,000 be allocated in the city budget for this purpose.  We’re looking to both the city and county to provide matching funds for these projects in the coming year.  With help from city and county staff members in an ongoing planning process, we can significantly augment your contribution with other sources, some of which are discussed below.

Financial Recommendations


Number Served
Approx. Cost
Year-round “security first” shelter either in surplus buildings or on vacant land

Year-round Safe Parking

Winter Shelter Oct-March

Housing First Facilitator

In addition, we support a budgetary set aside of approximately $1.2 million for one or more permanent supportive housing projects. 

Description:  With the creation of the new senior center on Steele Lane, most of the senior services at Bennett Valley are scheduled to end.  This building could be repurposed to provide single room occupancy housing for approximately 70 homeless seniors on the model of the Palms Inn.  Some of the current classes could continue in a remodeled facility and remain open to the neighborhood seniors.  This project should be able to access some of the state funding detailed below.  If this building cannot be used, this money will be available for other opportunities.

Policy Recommendations

·      Before the Winter Rain.  Use an expedited timeline to get the projects with the least infrastructure and construction sited and ready for use in the next three months.

·      Open Private Land.  Adopt new incentives for private property owners to partner with homeless housing developers to use empty sites for temporary and supported housing until construction begins.

·      Open The Process.   In awarding this money, even for the smaller project, use an RFP process in order to begin building capacity among our diverse homeless service provider community.

·      Open Public Land.  Identify and provide funding to prepare all surplus public property for the development of permanent, supported housing in a variety of housing designs and capacities. 

·      Getting In the System.  Ensure that all homeless facilities and services comply with Housing First entry guidelines, expanding the available short-term beds.

·      Getting Housed.  Hire a “Housing First” Facilitator who is available for both sheltered and unsheltered homeless people.   Oblige all future projects by housing developers that are partly funded by the city or required by inclusionary zoning to include a percentage of extremely low income housing.  Expand the Santa Rosa Housing Authority priority for housing homeless people.

·      Best Advice from Everyone.  Establish an ongoing advisory group to provide guidance to the City on homeless services and facilities, bringing together providers, city staff, homeless individuals, and the community.

Expanded Descriptions

These policy and financial suggestions support a continuum of solutions including independent and supportive shelters, transitional villages, single-room occupancy hotels, master-leased apartments, and newly-constructed and subsidized low income housing projects.

Year-round “security first” shelter either in buildings or on vacant land:
From long experience, service providers, Homeless Action!, and independent volunteers are well aware of the required essentials and costs of making these approaches work. Proposals will be grounded in a growing body of literature on best practices and successful projects.  Whether called transitional villages, safe spaces, sanctioned encampments or something else, these options utilize existing structures within the homeless community’s current camps.  They add enough support and oversight to bring safety to the residents and comfort to the neighborhood.  Security first villages work best with roughly 30 people per site.  To keep the costs reasonable, we recommend an individualized staffing plan for each site, depending on client mix and other factors.  This option combined with some winter shelter beds can eliminate much of the instability, illness, and death experienced by the Last Chance villagers. Volunteers can assist with initial challenges and support at all sites.

Year-round Safe Parking.  This cost, potentially administered from an expanded CHAP program, covers the sanitation and stipend for an on-site volunteer manager.  Homeless Action! has operated a successful Safe Parking site at McBride Avenue for over a year and we understand the necessary components.   The Bennett Valley Senior Center with its 60 person parking lot is an obvious potential site for some Safe Parking slots.  Other city-owned sites can be located.

Winter Shelter Oct-March.  The $100,000 expense is based on the work of St. Vincent De Paul at the Armory in 2016-2018.  The Armory is expensive, unavailable on weekends and people have to leave early in the dark, cold mornings.  We recommend a search for a better facility.

Housing First Facilitator.  One full-time job similar to the Housing Navigators currently hired by Catholic Charities.  This worker would work in the wider community.

State & Local Matching Money

These state monies are more likely to come to Santa Rosa if the city already has money available for shelter and/or housing projects.  Because of the state-wide housing shortage and homeless emergency, these state-wide funds are likely to be highly competitive.

1)  California’s 2018-2019 budget includes one-time money of $500 million to address homelessness.  Details have not been released yet.   To get a share of this funding Santa Rosa will need a developer who is ready, willing and able to pursue a viable project.  

2)  "No Place Like Home", funding for supportive housing for people affected by mental illnesses.  Likely to be available early next year, although a court case about the legality of diverting service money to housing is being deliberated.  We may also see a ballot measure on the November ballot to allow this.  The initiative specifically targets cheap, innovative solutions, including transitional villages.

3) If the State housing bond is successful in November, $1.5 billion will go into MHP  (Multifamily Housing Program).  There will be a priority and/or set aside for projects that include a supportive housing component.

4)  We will also see funding coming from the "permanent source" approved last year.  It is likely to provide about $400 million annually.   This is not specifically targeted for supportive housing or other homeless-designated housing, but it can be used for those purposes.

5)  Homeless Action! supports a Santa Rosa bond measure for the November ballot.  

6)  Any successful award from one or more of these sources, including any city funding, will increase the likelihood of a project receiving an allocation of tax credits, the largest subsidy for low income rental housing. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Housing Development in Santa Rosa

These properties should be examined by the community for their opportunities to be used for low income housing.. Placemarks in Deep Purple and Orange indicate properties approved and in process of being approved by the City. Green placemarks are properties the City is wanting to sell. Those in purple are moving through the City processes, and have links to staff reports. Those in blue are suspect properties we're still researching.