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.