Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency’s La Shelle Dozier on the role of policy, funding and public perception of affordable housing

La Shelle Dozier is the executive director of the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. (Photo by Fred Greaves)

By Keyshawn Davis

In 1982, Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency was formed by the city and county as a joint powers authority. These local governments wanted to include all of their housing functions under one entity. 

SHRA provides housing for people who need it through different programs like the Housing Choice Vouchers Program, formerly known as Section 8 public housing, and is a financing arm for affordable housing developers.

La Shelle Dozier has worked for SHRA for 22 years and has been the executive director since 2009. Dozier spoke to us about the role SHRA plays when it comes to affordable housing in Sacramento and what the agency offers to people experiencing housing insecurity.

Tell me about your organization and how it relates to Sacramento’s affordable housing crisis.

[There’s] the work that we do in terms of running some of the existing programs, but over the past few years, have been very involved in other programs that have assisted people throughout the pandemic. One was the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and in that particular program, we provided rental assistance to individuals who were impacted by COVID and were unable to pay their rent. So we received funds from both the state and the federal government, and [we had] over $180 million that we were able to disperse out to the community to keep people in their homes. 

The other thing we have started to work on is the emergency shelters that the city operates, so we oversee that. There are three shelters, one is … over in the Grove, called EBH: Emergency Bridge Housing for youth that are 18 to 25. We oversee the shelter at Meadowview, which is a women’s shelter, and then we oversee the shelter at X Street. We work with other nonprofits who will do the day to day, but that is also part of our purview. 

SHRA really does get involved in a lot of things — all things housing — but our main focus is really permanent housing, and so we are the entity that creates and looks at how we build the inventory of permanent long-term housing within our community. 

What do you see as the major factors driving lack of affordable housing in the Sac region?

I think that the cost of housing has grown exponentially in general across the nation. Unfortunately, Sacramento has not been able to keep up in terms of what used to be an affordable place to live. Many people came to Sacramento because it was still relatively inexpensive in terms of renting, as well as purchasing a home. But a lot of those things have changed. The cost of housing has impacted people dramatically here, just like all over the United States and California. So that is one of the major factors that we see driving the lack of affordable housing. 

There was a time where if you focused on our seniors, if you were living on Social Security, you could rent a one bedroom and still have enough money for all of your basic needs. Now, the average cost of the one bedroom in Sacramento is somewhere between $1,400 and $1,500, depending on what area you’re living in, but Social Security’s average payments are $1,700. So you can see the discrepancy between if you only have $1,700 and the majority of your dollars are going towards rent, it leaves very little for food, utilities and all the other basic necessities.

So that’s why the programs that we are involved in, in terms of our Section 8 and our public housing, allow people to pay 30% of their income — whatever that is — towards rent. That’s what keeps people stable. That’s what keeps people housed. Once you start to exceed 50%, 60%, 70% of your income going towards rent, it does create housing instability. One thing can put you in a situation where you fall behind and find it very difficult, if not impossible, to catch up and stay caught up on your own payments. So that’s really, I think, the major factor that we see in terms of the lack of affordable housing that impacts Sacramento, as well as everyone else.

What do you see as the most promising solutions to addressing the issue of housing affordability?

There’s the policy piece of it in terms of what are the policies that really impact affordable housing. The second bucket is funding and how do we have enough funding for us to build, construct, maintain affordable housing. Then, I think the third bucket is the public perception of affordable housing. 

So let’s start with the first one, which is policy. I think the city and the county have done a really good job of really analyzing their policy, trying to remove barriers for affordable housing, and that’s things like how long the process takes. Making it easy if someone wants to create, accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, on their property, ensuring that the fees are either waived or something that doesn’t create additional barriers for our developing community. I think they’re doing a really great job of going through and looking and analyzing the policy pieces of it. And those are the things that are within the control. There are other policy issues at a higher level at the state and federal level that also, I think, really impacts housing affordability, and definitely homelessness. And so those are things like the CARE Court that the governor is putting in place that really addressed people who need a different level of wraparound service and attention than what they’re able to get now. 

Then, the second bucket [is] funding and this is the most critical one that we struggle with. … There is that public perception that it costs a lot of money. But, really, if we look at what we used to have and what we used to fund … [and] what we had before in terms of the redevelopment funds that came to the agency versus what we have now, is drastically reduced. Under redevelopment, where we received that tax increment financing, we had a stable source of funding that allowed us to create a continuous pipeline of affordable housing. 

For instance, I used to receive about $20 million a year, so that allowed me to really make sure that we had projects that were coming online at a pace to keep up with the need in our community. However, after 2012 when [redevelopment funds] went away, I went from $20 million to maybe $6 million. So you can see the dramatic difference in terms of the amount of funding that is available. And the money that we used leverages other dollars. So it leverages local, state and federal dollars to deliver these affordable housing projects.

The third part is [the] public perception of affordable housing. … You have people who think it’s great if it’s not where they live — it’s somewhere else. You have to get beyond that and be welcoming of affordable housing and community because that’s another barrier that we have in terms of how we address the problem.

What more can you tell us about these solutions and why they offer the most potential to solve the problem?

Looking at the policies trying to increase the amount of funding available, I think the reason why those are so promising is because homelessness is not one blanket, but if you really pull back all of the layers, you realize that it does really boil down to affordability and people being pushed out of their housing. That’s the No. 1 reason why someone ends up homeless or in housing insecurity, which means that you have overcrowding in many families who are living together. So, looking at these policies, establishing a continuous ongoing source of funding is a roadmap towards really digging ourselves out of this. But it’s not something that can happen quickly, and it won’t happen overnight. We didn’t get here overnight. So there has to be a level of patience and understanding that you gotta be methodical. But you’ve got to put the right levers in place. That gives people like myself and many other housing authorities, affordable housing developers, the right tools and resources to tackle the problem.

What evidence exists to show the effectiveness of these solutions?

I think it’s pretty clear when we look to the individuals who have moved into housing, there are people who were living on the streets and people who are living on the streets. There’s a cost to taxpayers when someone’s living on the streets, but it is kind of hidden. People don’t realize but the calls for service to our medical care system, the calls that our code enforcement has to do, the level of cleanup that has to occur all of these things are costs that governments incur when people don’t have a stable home. So you’ve got to weigh that in terms of we got to put the cost into people living in a situation which is substandard and just unacceptable. Are we going to make sure that we fund those types of resources and programs and housing that will get them inside and have a shelter and a roof over their head?

Those are the types of solutions and the evidence we see is a drop in those other costs, in terms of hitting the medical systems, hitting all those other things. And then the stability on the side of when people move into housing and what that does for their mental health, as well as the families and everyone else who really is trying to provide support and assistance.

What limitations exist around these solutions? 

I know I keep going back to the money, but that really is the bottom line here. The challenge is making sure and understanding that the money has to be set aside. We have to make sure that we care for everyone within our community and have the appropriate funding and the resources. The majority of the people that we serve through our Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8, are either disabled themselves or have a disabled family member — over 60% of the people who participate. So when you really think about it, it is imperative that we establish and make sure that we have funding mechanisms in place, so that we can create housing for people who need it the most. 

This Q&A has been edited for length, clarity and flow.

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.

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