County, city disagree over import of 50-year fair housing partnership

Sacramento County supervisors delayed killing an in-name-only regional partnership that has mediated landlord-tenant disputes for half a century.

The Regional Human Rights/Fair Housing Commission faced dissolution at the end of this month after receiving a similar reprieve in November, along with uncertainty over how to pay a roughly $2.8 million tab, primarily in the way of California Public Employees’ Retirement System liabilities.

The commission, which offers court mediation services at the Carol Miller Justice Center and other rental and public housing programs, operates as a joint powers authority made up of the county and four of its cities. While the JPA isn’t legally obligated to cover the outstanding debt, county officials promised to pay their share, especially since the commission primarily serves residents in the unincorporated county and city of Sacramento.

The commission operated a $600,000 annual budget during its salad days, but is down to about half that, with Sacramento County the only paying member of the JPA.

“The ‘J’ part of the ‘PA’ is gone,” quipped chief financial officer Britt Ferguson at the January 14 hearing.

While supervisors gave a pass to the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove and Rancho Cordova, which joined the JPA in 2008 and whose residents make up a slim margin of clients, they poked the city of Sacramento, a onetime funding partner and continued user of commission services.

“The city withdrew funding and didn’t make other arrangements,” charged Supervisor Don Nottoli.

Sacramento city officials say comparable housing resources are now provided through the McGeorge School of Law’s housing mediation clinic as well as state and federal entities.

But McGeorge and Legal Services of Northern California have income eligibility requirements that the commission doesn’t, and the Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency hasn’t been adept at fielding referral calls from voucher-holders within the city, said commission appointee Dana Mitchell.

“For two days, when we tried to refer calls from the city back to the city, it was bedlam,” she told supervisors. “So there’s not a plan. Or if there is, it’s not a functioning one.”

Rather than go with any of the recommendations to wind down the commission and spread out the costs, supervisors Nottoli and Phil Serna led an effort to fund the program through the end of February and examine keeping a version of the commission alive.

“I want to know where we’re going if we get to the edge of the cliff here, and either jump off or fall off,” Nottoli said.

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