Sonoma County Post Non Congregate Housing Planning June 6. 2020 ideas

Post Non Congregate Housing Planning
June 6, 2020

I wrote this before the County proposed their ideas for Tuesday. I think/hope it compliments the new ides for July 7. I especially like the lowest cost option Norton Hall in Attachment 5, of Item 34

This is an important and complex issue. It seems that the actual and most viable approach would be to develop a comprehensive plan using the existing homeless service providers and the existing behavioral health residential providers and develop a thoughtful integrated and transparent strategy which those organizations staff and maintain over time.

The key questions that need to be answered are:
• How many people are we trying to secure stable housing for?
• How much rent can people afford to pay given their disability payments?
• What kind of supportive services are available in the present structure that could be extended to these residences?
• Can a viable public-private partnership step up to solve the housing problem for the most vulnerable people right now?
• What agencies or contacts should develop this plan?

The needed housing to disband the non congregate shelters includes:

80 people from Sonoma State University
60 people from the Los Guillicos encampment
30 people from the Astro Motel
20 people at the trailers at the fairgrounds
60 people from the Finley Center
50 people from the Sandman Motel

300 => This is a real opportunity to help the most vulnerable high needs homeless because now all of these people are known to the system along with what their needs are and they are all in the same place, NCS.

It is critical to remember that 300 is only 10% of the total homeless population of Sonoma County. Yet, the 3,000 homeless people are only 3% of the 95,000 people in the county who live on Social Security, SSDI and SSI in Sonoma County.

Input to Planning

It would be useful to solicit input from all the agencies in this space. CDC Home Sonoma has all of their contact information. In addition, the advocacy groups such as Homeless Action! and CANS and the Squeaky Wheel Coalition could be offered the opportunity to give ideas. It will be crucial that the business and investment community, represented through the Economic Development Board, take ownership of this problem.

I believe going through these processes will generate viable ideas, and, more importantly, draw support because input was solicited. Inviting input in this new way may invite concurrence as we move forward and avoid public disgruntlement. If we give people a chance to weigh in, they are far less likely to throw weight around later if the solutions are not to their liking.

Process ideas
I think a well done Survey Monkey would be convenient and effective. Survey Monkey results are easy to aggregate and share.


The possible locations for moving people are limited. One of the problems that has plagued homeless services in Sonoma County has been the need to increase the occupancy of the main shelters at Sam Jones and Mary Isaac center particularly in the winter. This is not viable if we are moving to a permanent affordable resolution.

In the NCS circumstances we now have the most vulnerable people in our project and we should take advantage of this because we know the most vulnerable people are the most expensive users of services. Good planning for them now is assumed to save money in the long run. We should be able to address this as a justification for placing people in more stable housing.

A key consideration in creating long-term stable encampments (most refer to this as the indoor outdoor shelter) is the level of security and oversight which is currently in place. The fact that it is been determined to be necessary in these instances to have fences and full-time staff and full time security personnel as well as very strict residence guidelines, such as curfews, is a cost factor. A key question is – Can a shelter be operated simply by the staff without the necessity for the fencing and the security guards? Can we respect people’s rights as adults to self determination?

Also, at the end of this NCS, the actual costs will be very well articulated because we just spent that money in current situation. We can compare the costs of the various NCS sites.

The available locations (considerations)

If the county is insistent on using existing County property the identified property from the inventories done over the last couple of years is the inventory we have available. Of all of the spaces which I know only the fairgrounds is the most accessible either next to the trailers or in some aspect of the veterans building property north of the freeway

• The fairground location is County property – the current location of the trailers has a large amount of space there that would allow the movement of the Los Guilicos encampment to that location.
• The Los Guilicos encampment could remain where it is however its location is a problem due to the isolation.
• There is a location to the south of the Mary Isaac Center which the City of Petaluma and COTS have been discussing considering an indoor outdoor shelter
• Another alternative would be to work with the private landowner to lease space for the parking of RVs and the placement of the Los Guilicos house pallet structures.
• The county was in conversation at one point considering the motel (which is currently boarded up) across the street from the Astro Motel.
• The City of Santa Rosa Senior Center on Bennett Valley Road is also under discussion by the city, but for what use is unclear whether it would be a homeless shelter or long-term development, this was a consideration at the time when they HEAP money was available
• Finally, the untried solution is the one which has been developed by Sonoma Applied Village Services, commonly known as SAVS. They have a plan for tiny villages with tiny houses or large tents or recreational vehicles all in multiple managed properties in different parts of the county. Some properties have been identified.

A good example of this that’s working is the Sebastopol campground/RV Park run by West County Services on the eastern edge of Sebastopol at Highway 12.

Residential Community Houses discussion

The funding used for No Place Like Home involving the purchase of the houses in Cotati and Santa Rosa is also a major resource. A key idea in this realm is to question whether or not the county needs to fully expend the funds to actually purchase the homes.

One idea would be to collaborate with residential investors wherein the residential investors purchase the home and the county contributes the down payment sufficiently that the payments available from the residents (typically disability payments), cover a sufficient part of the payments to make it viable. The county would write contracts with the investors wherein the county funds would be an equity share of the residence for a set period of time such as 10 or 12 years. At the end of that time the investors could repurpose the property or sell the property and the county would then, as an equity stakeholder, get its share of the funds as well as any accrued value back into the homeless and housing system. That would also give organizations 10 to 12 years to prepare to purchase already functioning residential homes. In doing this, perhaps, the $500,000+ amount could go towards four different houses instead of one single house because you’re leveraging private dollars and county puts in 20-25%.

This also is a ripe opportunity for legislative change which would allow special tax benefits similar to the affordable housing tax benefits which large developers get. Legislation could be developed which allow this kind of an arrangement to have similar benefits for the investors thus attracting multiple investors for a segment of the population that needs permanent supportive housing.

A grand plan for community houses and permanent supportive houses would have the high needs population served by a network of group homes and independent living homes which was sufficiently large so that individuals could move among the homes by virtue of their membership in a special program. If it was possible to purchase 20 to 30 to 40 houses it would be amazing. At 4 to 8 people per house that would house between 80 and 320 people. If we develop a model of the County using $12.5 million to leverage $50 million in private investment then we would have homes for 320 people

The cost of the current Affordable Housing Development model would be $160 million to house the same number of people. (@ $500,000 per unit and 6-12 years to completion)

A key question in the world of community housing and shared housing is the degree of oversight and support required. You can assume that there are variety of people who could live perfectly fine by themselves given a structure and a contract and a process of recruitment into each house. You can also be certain that at least two thirds of the 320 people need some kind of ongoing support. The question there is how much support and how periodic? Once a homeless person is stably housed, if they have the right kind of support, you can expect some stability but you can also guarantee crisis and instability periodically for any given person. Thus, our experienced BH housing providers must have adequate staffing to support people.

A key question about the inventory issue is how many for the 4 to 8 bedroom houses are there available to be purchased. This is a deceptive question in that if you can find homes with 3 to 4 bedrooms on property you can add accessory dwelling units or tiny homes to get up to the eight bed goal. Once the residence gets above a certain size; and that size may be just six residents rather than eight, there are other expected complexities that are directly related to the sheer number of people interacting with each other on a regular basis.

A key consideration in housing network of this kind is to assure an occupancy rate that leaves sufficient empty beds so that when problems develop, or new individuals come on the scene, there is a place for them to stay before they are inducted into their permanent residence. There are multiple organizations in Sonoma County who have experience in doing this but do not have the capacity to provide it on a regular basis. In other words, you need extra bedrooms to managed the predictable fluctuations.

If structured in a particular way a residential real estate investment trust or fund could be created so that large institutional investors such as unions, pension funds, and municipalities could invest in these trusts. If the return on investment (or tax incentives) is secured then there is an unlimited amount of money available.

The county has large investment dollars which they are responsible for. Could these investment dollars be used to invest in a fund that builds housing? Similarly, Union Pension funds have major investment dollars. The Providence Hospital organization which holds the controlling interest in Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital has reportedly $13 billion in reserves which are in investments somewhere. And any of the major banks or credit unions also have investment funds which could be appropriately use to secure residential housing for very low income people, low income people, and market rate housing. The creativity in addressing the various models available while securing a stable supply of affordable housing.

This all reflects my opening comment that this is a complex problem, however, if we are not going to do this then we are planning to fail.