The Housing First conversations circulating around town usually begin with one statement. It’s simple, but not easy. The simple part is: If we provide vulnerable, and difficult-to-care homeless with permanent housing and support services until they can afford to pay rent and need reduced services, we will improve our clients’ lives, and save enough money in emergency room, jail, and case management salaries to cover our increased housing and service costs. Further, we can shift our energies toward early interventions with newly-homeless to prevent their spiraling into vulnerability.
I believe that.
But I think we under-sell how “not easy” it is. I have a hard time believing is that we can find the housing stock necessary to place our most vulnerable homeless into permanent supported housing.
In the past fifty years, Santa Rosa affordable housing developers have produced 5,358 congregate and individual housing units. They were shelters, transitional housing, permanently-supported, and unsupported housing. They were designed for, and occupied by residents with extremely low (no more than $16,150/yr), very low ($26,950), low ($43,050), and moderate ($64,680) incomes. They were designed to meet the needs we saw for our low-income residents.
Ninety-four percent of the permanent housing was aimed at incomes far above those of our homeless population. If we look at the rental units produced at the income level of extremely low income, there were two built for seniors (with 35 units), and eleven built for families (267 units). These are units which, when vacant, might be available to place Housing First residents. Additionally, the City is expecting some of these landlords to partner with these efforts, and make more units available. Many of these same landlords are very concerned about the upcoming rent stabilization and just cause eviction control election.
If we have any hope of finding apartment owners who can partner with us, we should be looking for those with units having a history of low rents and on the margins of habitability. The City’s housing, planning, zoning, and several divisions of other departments should work together to identify and approach these landlords. We have given them housing subsidies in the past, and we have worked with them to upgrade illegal housing conditions. With rehabilitation loans, and targeted rental subsidies, we can improve our housing and residents at the same time.