This Northern California mayor wants to give everyone a right to housing

Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News on

Published in Business News

A: First of all, I don’t regret that I added the obligation to come indoors as part of the proposal, but it sure makes an already challenging issue even more challenging. The right to housing is 95%. The obligation to come inside is 5%. And so I’d be thrilled with getting 95% of people indoors, I think everybody would. Our public policy in this society should be that everyone lives indoors. Living outdoors is not safe, it is not healthy, it is not dignified, and it shortens lives. And it has huge impacts on neighbors and surrounding neighborhoods and in business corridors.

So how do we make sure that what we offer people meets their needs? Pets, possessions and partners are all allowed, are all part of our shelter system now, so people don’t have to be separated from what gave them connection and comfort when they were living on the streets. And we have to offer multiple options to people.

Q: Some people have compared this proposal to New York City’s right to shelter, which has been on the books for decades, but often is criticized for “warehousing” homeless people in shelters instead of transitioning them into housing. How would you prevent Sacramento from falling into that trap?

A: New York City’s right to shelter preceded the pets, partners and possessions commitment of our modern shelter system. Just because New York warehoused people in many cases doesn’t mean we have to do it the same. We can do it better. The problem with New York was not the right to shelter. It was the kind of shelter that they were providing. The right was still compelling. People are still indoors.

We can do it better by emphasizing permanent housing and more housing innovation. And secondly, we are already making our shelter options — whether it be congregate shelter, tiny homes, converted motel rooms — much higher quality than the history of New York.

Q: How much will this cost to implement in Sacramento, and how will you pay for it? And then what happens when the COVID money runs out?

A: I believe very strongly that if we can show the public greater success, they will support the call for more resources. Right now, the public is very ambivalent at best about new taxes to pay for these services. And the reason is obvious. They want to see greater progress.

Q: But there’s still a lot that stands in the way of building low-income housing and shelters, including neighborhood opposition, tough zoning laws and a lack of funding. What makes you think that just because there’s a legal mandate to housing, that those hurdles will go away?

A: They won’t automatically go away, but a legal mandate would be a powerful tool to help overcome at least some of them. If the law says and ultimately a court says you have to build more housing, then we’re going to have to confront the NIMBY question in a much more direct way. We’re going to have to confront the overregulation question in a much more direct way.


Darrell Steinberg

Title: Mayor of Sacramento

Age: 62

Hometown: Born in San Francisco, grew up in Millbrae

Current home: Sacramento

Family: Wife, Julie, and two adult children

Education: Attended UCLA for undergrad, then went on to UC Davis Law School

Prior jobs: Served on the Sacramento City Council, in the state Assembly and in the state Senate as the president pro tempore.

©#YR@ MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.