A few weeks ago, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signed up to reverse more than 35 years of federal neglect and human suffering. Their remarkable plan to raise $110 million and build 2,200 homes over the next 10 years promises an end to widespread and chronic homelessness in the county.
County staff have developed a 91-page report, "Building Homes: A Policy Maker's Toolbox for Ending Homelessness," with a multitude of ideas that include zoning changes, higher densities, remodeling of unused buildings, new fees, use of surplus land, allowance for smaller living spaces and more.
One hundred ten million dollars is a lot of cash. The supervisors expect to invest "substantial money" in the project and create a housing trust fund for the remodeling and building of the new homes. But without money from other government and private sources, this plan will flounder.
It isn't just the money: the potential for 2,200 new homes for very poor people is likely to trigger widespread paranoia. Burbank Housing has demonstrated that small groups of low-income housing do no damage to property values or neighborhood culture. Despite this, people continue to show up at hearings with 101 reasons why living spaces for poor people simply won't work near their homes.
Given all this, 10 years is a short window to fund and build 2,200 homes. But it's a long window for those who will sleep on the street tonight. Ten years is 3,650 nights, nights that will destroy lives and forever wound those who have to live through them without shelter.
It is often said that the supervisors are beholden to developer and landlord money. This plan is an opportunity for them to demonstrate their even-handedness. And it's an opportunity for you to be part of the solution.
Tell the supervisors that the homeless need to be deeply involved in the planning. Then tell them you strongly support these interim solutions: legal encampments, rent control and just-cause evictions and shelter at the former hospital site on Chanate Road. Hopefully, that shelter will only be needed for the next 3,650 nights.
Adrienne Lauby is a member of Homeless Action! and a producer-host of KPFA's 'Pushing Limits,' which covers disability issues.
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