Community Conversation on Housing: Bill Pride – Housing Insecure and Unsheltered Community Members

Bill Pride – image courtesy video from Davis Community Access

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Interfaith Housing Justice of Davis presented “Davis Housing Solutions: A Community Conversation” – a forum at the Davis Community Church.  What follows are the full comments by Bill Pride, Executive Director Yolo Community Builders

Full comments by Bill Pride:

I’m Bill Pride, executive director of Yolo Community Builders formerly of Davis Community Meals and Housing. I just wanted to follow up on something that Roberto said because I know he mentioned having all you folks here in support of building affordable housing and having some more way to communicate about the housing needs in the city of Davis. And I was just going to mention that years ago when I first started at Davis Community Meals, I was invited to a meeting at the city of Davis for the city of Davis Hall by Jerilyn Cochrane, who was a social services director back then. And the issue was developing two pieces of property in the city of Davis, one called Tremont Green, which is now owned by Mutual Housing and also Moore Village where we are now. WildHorse was just being developed at that point in time and frankly when I walked into that room at City Hall, I was there with Jerilyn, there was somebody else with me from the nonprofit community and there was this many people in that city hall opposed to developing those properties.

So I think there’s been a huge change in how people in the community are looking at what’s needed in the community and how to address those needs. I do want to thank everybody for coming out this evening and talking about that.

In my years at Davis Community Meals and Housing, when I first started there, we were a smaller organization that had a transitional housing program and other programs dealing with homeless and unhoused folks in the city of Davis through a meals program, transitional housing a day, shelter resource center. And the first issue I kind of noticed when I first started was we have a transitional housing program where our goal is to move folks from being unhoused to being housed again. And at the time, back in the early 2000s, the vacancy rate in the city of Davis was low, two, three, 4%, 5%.

And of course even back then the cost of housing here was too expensive for most folks to move from being unhoused to being housed again. And so I got involved with some folks and wonderful folks, some in the room here tonight, Luke Watkins and Shosana Zatz from Neighborhood Partners, and we embarked on a journey to build a place called Cesar Chavez Plaza. And later we embarked on doing Creekside over in East Davis. And more recently DCM got involved in doing Paul’s Place where we replaced an existing building with a new building including 18 perimeters supportive housing units. And they were all kind of steps forward in a way to have, I thought, to address the issue of building more housing to housing unhoused in a very direct fashion. Because frankly, I mean right now as of this day on Zillow, when I looked this morning, the average cost for a one bedroom in the city of Davis is $1,900.

And the average income you need to have to qualify to pay that rent is $5,000 a month, which is totally out of the reach of anybody that we deal with who is unhoused in the city of Davis. And I think compounded by that is also just another fact was that back in 2017 when we started having conversations with the city of Davis and other interested community members to replace what was at 1111 Eighth Street with what became Paul’s Place, there’s 131,000 homeless people in the state of California. And by 2023 when we finished a building seven years later, there’s now 181,000 homeless people in the state of California, an increase of 50,000 in that seven year period. Frankly, Paul’sPplace built 18 units of permanent supportive housing, which is not even the number of folks becoming unhoused every day during that seven year period to actually address that number of homeless folks in that same period of time, you’d have to build 2,800 Paul’s Places to actually house all those folks who became unhoused during that seven years, which is startling statistic frankly.

I mean I know the Reverend mentioned seeing homeless folks in tents along West Capitol Avenue. I mean anybody who goes through Midtown and Sacramento sees that everywhere. I mean that’s the result of what’s happened when the pace of developing the housing has not kept pace with the needs out there. And it’s certainly not kept pace with the affordability.

I mean, so that’s become a critical issue in our state, frankly. And so I’m going to talk a little bit about what I see as some of the unique challenges of housing the unhoused. First off, of course is that you’re trying to house folks who have little or no income. I mean generally the best scenario when some folks have income, it’s usually not more than a thousand $1,500 a month tops, probably if most folks have any income, it’s mostly SSI, which is a fixed income for folks on some disability maybe or some kind of SSDI payment.

And that ranges from $850 to $1,150 a month. There is absolutely no place in Davis they can afford that unless you go to some place that rents to extremely low-income folks. And of course, the other thing that happens too, which is kind of a big challenge for everybody in the field, is most if not many have mental health issues, substance abuse issues that you have to figure out a way to kind of house these folks with those issues and make it work for everybody else in the community. I mean, it’s not an easy task and I’m not sure where Cinda went to, but if anybody has questions, Cinda who works for DCM and she’s been a supportive services coordinator for us for many years, she knows full well the challenges and I invite you to go talk to her at the end of the proceedings tonight.

The other thing too is that chronically homeless folks, many of them have been homeless for many years. It’s actually a huge challenge to move from the streets to being housed again. I mean, just the shock of being going from being in the great outdoors 24/7 for many years and being southern inside with four walls is a big challenge mentally for most folks to adjust to. I know last year somebody moved into Paul’s Place while I was still employed there. She left within a month because she couldn’t deal with the four walls. She wasn’t able to kind of get her life wrapped around being inside again. And of course there are a lot of basic barriers, and it’s not just including Paul’s Place, but just including any rental housing, which is that people have evictions. Many of our folks have passed criminal convictions including drug convictions. And those are used challenges if you’re getting federal money because they generally don’t allow you to rent to those folks. Some folks have amount of bad debt. I mean that’s something that some of these folks had before. They owe PG&E, they owe credit cards, they became homeless, they haven’t been paid in many years. But because of that debt and the regulations that are in many affordable housing communities, they cannot rent to them. They have, because of their income, they have no way to pay a security deposit of the first month’s rent.

Sometimes it’s just getting basic information. I mean, having you need a driver’s license ID card, birth certificate, other forms of ID to actually be able to be renters in many places nowadays, pets is a big issue. I know there’s been some state legislation passed and in the last few years that under some programs that the state funds for building affordable housing, they have to rent to homeless individuals who have pets without any kind of special qualifications. But that’s generally not the rule of other places. So folks with pets sometimes have issues about moving inside if they have a dog or a cat or some other pet.

And of course, I think one of the big issues too, which it seems kind of odd, is there’s people out there who’ve been homeless for the last 20, 30, 40 years. They actually don’t have any idea anywhere you can actually go and try to get a credit report. And they don’t exist anywhere frankly because they’ve been off the grid so many years. And that can create its own challenges frankly. So what is needed to respond to those challenges? I mean, clearly the need for the more housing is just huge. I mean, it is frankly a daunting task. I mean, if I tried, sat here and figured out to build how many of those 2,800 Paul places units just to house those 50,000 folks over the last seven years, you’re talking well into the trillion dollars to build all those housing units. And so it’s really daunting to figure out how you’re going to kind of do that.

And of course some folks, I mean I know over the years I’ve been dealing with HUD and all the other kind of regulations that I had to deal with at DCMH over the years, you have funding requirements instead, you have to do this, you have to do that. One of the things that came out some years ago is something called Housing First, which was the idea that instead of having folks do something interim, like go into transitional housing or some other kind of program that you’re supposed to move folks directly from the streets into the housing and then have them accept those services afterwards on the idea that getting them into housing was some kind of thing that you could kind of make sure they get through and then get them the services they need to make sure they stay housed. And I would just say this much said, that’s easier said than done.

I mean there are a lot of folks in the streets, Davis and all other cities whose mental health problems are extremely severe. I mean, putting them into housing was not a great answer for them, frankly. I mean a lot of them need to be in some kind of board and care facility, maybe some hospitalization for a period of time, some other kind of avenue to help them move along in their journey to become housed all over again. And clearly there needs to be more money put into helping folks support themselves, whether it’s with vouchers, project-based vouchers, some kind of support services through some state funding or local funding. But I mean, even if you moved into like Caesar Chavez Plaza right now, I think the cheapest rent there is probably around $375, $400 a month, which is extremely inexpensive compared to everything else in the Cedar Davis.

But you have to have some income to qualify to do that, and you have to have some people moving in able to pay that. And of course, we still have folks in the streets that have no income. So there has to be some kind of designated income stream to help folks move from being unhoused to being housed again. And of course, I think that for one thing, I think anybody who’s ever heard me talk before is that really having a good supportive services onsite for the folks who live there is very key to actually move in and also stay there and be stable and safe. I mean, most folks, like I said, move in. They haven’t been inside for many years. They have many needs that somehow are not being met and they don’t know how to meet those themselves. And having somebody there to help them kind of deal with all those daily issues is key to helping them get the services they need to actually just stay there. And with us, as simple as making sure that, I know in some of our communities, DCM’s communities in Davis, we had steak to make the food deliveries once a week so people could come down and help them get food so they had something to eat. But those are just some basic things that the supportive services coordinator could provide to folks. But it’s vitally needed to make sure these communities work and why do we need to do more?

In my mind, at least, all unhoused individuals need to be treated with dignity, respect, just like every other community member, as I’ve said many times over the years in my speeches to groups, whether it’s rotary, Qantas, other groups around, frankly, everybody in this room probably knows somebody in their family who’s had mental health problems, substance abuse issues, and dealt with those things once, one or more periods of time. Many times the folks who are on the streets, of course, are somebody’s brother, their sisters, their moms, their dads, their sons, their daughters, they’re us. And we need to care for us. That is how the community should work. It’s a healthy way to kind of deal with the homeless issue. It’s a healthy way us to respond to what their needs are. And by doing that, we create a more stable community, a safer community, and all of our community benefits from that.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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