I spent Wednesday afternoon in Sacramento listening to legislators talk about the state’s housing crisis. Twenty percent of the nation’s homeless live in the Golden State, the moderator stated in his introductory remarks. On the other end of the spectrum, Assembly member Marc Steinorth said during his opening statement, “We’re not building enough market rate homes, CEQA reform is needed to increase the supply of homes.” Another panelist chimed in, “a lot of our cities are not doing enough.” They all agreed, local governments need to focus on streamlining the development process and the state government needs to focus on making building in this state more affordable. Housing affordability remains a real challenge in California.
The previous evening I had been in Redlands, a city currently faced with an opportunity to improve the housing options for the city’s veterans and others eligible for affordable housing.
I was there to follow-up on last week’s story about the Liberty Lane affordable housing project for homeless veterans. I was inspired by the veterans and military families I encountered during my research and wanted to see if more veterans showed-up to speak on behalf of the project. I also wanted to see if the project’s opposition was bold enough to provide public testimony on the same stage and with the same amount of passion as the veterans and their families. Specifically, during my research I had read the letter of opposition submitted to the city council by Redlands resident Rosa Gomez and had heard from several trusted sources that she had enlisted her sister Assembly member Eloise Gomez Reyes to contact city leaders with her concerns. I stayed until well into the evening, but no opposing voices arose during public comment.
I don’t blame them, its hard to argue against a project that helps “our patriots” to quote Don Griggs, a Viet Nam veteran who told the council he comes from a lineage of “patriots” who love and support this country so much they were willing to give their lives to protect it. “My grandfather served in World War I, my father in World War II, and three uncles served in the Korean War,” he said. District Attorney Mike Ramos, a Redlands native and Supervisor James Ramos were passionate about the need to help the city’s “hometown heroes.” Redlands resident Chris Williams was homeless for a year after a trucking accident. “Just because I was homeless didn’t mean I was nobody,” he said. “We must take care of our own.” Mr. Williams served in the navy for three tours as a member of the multi-peace keeping forces in Beirut and Lebanon.
But it was Jason Barber’s public testimony that drew the loudest and most enthusiastic applause. “I am one of the people this project would help,” he said and praised the project’s collaborators: Loma Linda VA, San Bernardino County, The Community of Friends, and US VETS. “When I read the social media posts and online news comments of people complaining that the project will create traffic, I felt disrespected,” he said. “We didn’t commit to serve only if it’s convenient.” Mr. Barber later told me he served in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood Texas, in South Korea, Fort Lewis Washington, and the DMZ (the line of separation between North and South Korea). “Safe Haven” the U.S. Vets housing project in Loma Linda, saved his life. He knows Liberty Lane will do the same for others.
Dena Fuentes, Deputy Executive Officer, Housing and Community Development explained why the county has a sense of urgency regarding the project. The project developer, “has been working diligently to secure funding for the development, this includes: $2.6 million of State funding for homeless veterans, $2.75 million from the Mental Health Service Act, a $900,000 Home Depot grant, and $1 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank,” she said during public comment. “Additionally the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino was able to competitively secure 59 VASH vouchers from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. These funds will be used to compete for the competitive Low Income Housing Tax Credits 9% program from the State of California. The deadlines for the second round of 9% LIHTC is June 28th.”
She continued, “The VASH vouchers and the VHHP funds have time limits on the commitments. The County and developer feel that the environmental analysis is thorough and complete. To move this development forward to house our homeless veterans, we encourage the council to schedule this item for consideration on May 2nd.”
The City of Redlands discussed the project in closed session but did not have any reportable action. As I sat in one of my favorite restaurants in Sacramento writing this story, US VETS CEO Steve Peck happened to be seated next to me. I shared with him my observations from the meeting in Redlands the night before and he shared with me pictures of the new veterans housing project currently under construction at March Air Reserve Base. Like me, he finds it difficult to understand those people who say they support veterans, but when it comes to building housing for them, say “not in my backyard.” As one veteran commented that night, hopefully the city council will stand-up for vets and make sure they can sleep safely at night in Liberty Lane instead of being left to camp out in the city’s Liberty Park.