U.S. Mayor Article

Special Needs Housing Facility Gives Hope, Stability to Sacramento Residents

By Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo
May 12, 2003

The nation's mayors continue to deal with an affordable housing crisis in their communities. The term affordable housing is often linked to homeownership, down payment assistance, and affordable rental prices. All of those things are very important to the people that live and work in our communities, but affordable housing also includes an often forgotten segment of the population'special needs housing. As Mayors, one segment of the population that local governments must continue to serve is individuals with special needs for housing with supportive services. There is a severe lack of affordable units that will provide a safe and stable living environment for these individuals.

Special needs housing includes the elderly, the disabled, the homeless, disadvantaged youth, battered women, the mentally ill, and those suffering from HIV/AIDS. According to recent statistics released by the United States Conference of Mayors, roughly 1.4 million elderly and two million people with disabilities pay more than 50 percent of their incomes for housing or live in substandard housing. Also, more than 3.5 million households have special needs for housing with supportive services.

Like many cities across the country, Sacramento seeks to give all of our residents- access to housing which accommodates their needs. The city of Sacramento has been fortunate to have many organizations with in the city that provide exemplary services specifically to special-needs populations. One of these groups, Transitional Living and Community Support (TLCS), provides a variety of services to their clients ranging from housing for homeless families to a transitional living facility for formerly incarcerated, mentally ill adults.

Groups like TLCS provide valuable services to fill a gap through which homeless populations can fall. Many times organizations like TLCS become victim to changing real estate markets, which make the sale of their property more lucrative to a private landlord. In early 2001, the private landlord renting to TLCS decided to sell the property and capitalize on the hot real estate market in Sacramento. TLCS was faced with the loss of their facility.

TLCS had been leasing the property for one year when the landlord decided to place the property on the market. Prior to moving into the facility, TLCS spent two years working to gain support for the program from the local neighborhood association, who eventually became supporters of the program. Thus, as a result of a hot real estate market and after considerable time and effort spent locating the program, TLCS was in the unfortunate situation of losing its facility.

Around the same time, Nehemiah Corporation of California was forming the Nehemiah Urban Land Trust (NULT), a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to acquire, manage and preserve special needs housing facilities like the one operated by TLCS. NULT subsequently stepped in to purchase the TLCS property, and the property is now being held in perpetuity for the benefit of TLCS, its clients, and the community. The mission and bylaws of NULT provide for the property to be used for special needs housing by another social services agency in the event TLCS were to cease using the property.

The NULT model delivers several valuable benefits to the City as well as to the organizations they work with including a long-term lease, a rental agreement at the low end of market rate and comprehensive property management services. Because many times organizations do not have the funding to purchase their facility themselves or the staff to manage the upkeep and repairs NULT can make an important contribution to their clients as well as the beneficiaries of the programs the social service agency operates. In addition NULT keeps a property permanently affordable ensuring the social service agency has the security that the property will not be sold by a landlord that wishes to capitalize on a changing real estate market nor that their lease payment will increase as a result of inflation.

NULT has made an incredible difference in the lives of the transitionally homeless in downtown Sacramento by providing a quality facility with a secure commitment that the property will be used for special needs housing indefinitely. Through CitiesFirst™, a partnership between The U.S. Conference of Mayors and the Nehemiah Corporation of California, NULT is developing projects in several cities around the country including: Indianapolis, Atlanta, Charlotte and the Baltimore/DC area.

As a mayor of a city that has greatly benefited from NULT, I strongly encourage other mayors to utilize the resources of the NULT, as well as CitiesFirst™ to ensure that the more than 3.5 million people with special needs living in our communities have permanent and affordable housing options.

For more information about NULT or CitiesFirst™, please contact Dana Bykowski, Managing Director, at the Conference of Mayors at (202)-296-4094 or dbykowski@usmayors.org.

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