Public meeting on Affordable and Supportive Housing Development planned for Tuesday, March 14 at Jensen Hall

Lassen County plans to host a public meeting to hear community concerns and receive public input regarding a controversial proposed Affordable and Supportive Housing Development on North Mesa Street Tuesday, March 14 at Jensen Hall. Organizers expect the meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m., but the starting time has not yet been determined. The project, originally planned for The Gables near Johnstonville, has been in the works since 2016. That project was scrubbed due to community complaints and concerns.

County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said the people of Susanville need to make a decision regarding the project, regardless of its location. He pointed out the proposed project is still in the concept stage and while the idea is for a long-term lease with a developer who will both build and manage the project in collaboration with the county, perhaps for as long as 30 years, absolutely no agreements have yet been made.

“Part of the real purpose of the meeting, in my opinion anyway, is to decide if we have the stones to put this somewhere,” Egan said. “Do we want the community to stay the way it is, or do we want to put a low-income housing development like this somewhere? I don’t live in the city of Susanville, and I don’t pretend to know what’s best for the city. I believe doing nothing results in more dilapidated, substandard rental units that are offered by the slumlords in town. I don’t think that’s really healthy for the community, either.”

He said if the city really is interested in providing the city owned site on Highway 139 near Lassen Community College for the project, that might be a viable alternative to North Mesa Street site despite some infrastructure issues. Former Mayor Mendy Schuster said she would oppose any such project anywhere in the city, and Mayor Quincy McCourt appeared at a recent supervisors’ meeting and offered his support and help in finding a location for the project.

In the past few weeks both the Lassen County Board of Supervisors and the Susanville City Council have faced standing room only crowds opposing the project.

“It’s homeless housing, not supportive, transitional, etc.,” Brian Anderson, one of the project’s loudest and most vocal critics, alleged in letter he distributed before a recent city council meeting that expresses many of the citizens’ concerns. He alleges the county falsely uses “soft words” such as supportive and transitional housing to describe the project.

Anderson wrote he was “shocked” after hearing a “comment” on a local radio station regarding the Feb. 14 Lassen County Board of Supervisors’ meeting during which the proposed development would be discussed. After attending that supervisors’ meeting, he wrote he left, “confused (and) angry and I felt betrayed by county and city elected officials.” He alleged this lack of transparency by local elected officials appears to be by “design,” and “The reason is clear: Anticipated and justified public opposition … The reality is that no one wants to live next to homeless housing because it is a poor financial investment, and your family safety is jeopardized.”

Despite those residents’ concerns, the county points to the dire need of affordable housing in Lassen County.

According to a PowerPoint presentation on the project prepared by Lassen County Housing and Grants and presented at a supervisors’ meeting last month, “There is a critical need for rental housing for all income levels” in Lassen County; “Low-income, seniors and people with disabilities are especially in need; There are waiting lists at local affordable housing complexes and for Section 8 vouchers.”

Despite the county’s description of the project as housing for low-income people and families, many residents believe the proposed project is actually designed to accommodate the homeless people who live in makeshift camps along the Susan River and suffer from mental health, law enforcement and drug addiction issues.

Both the county and the Danco Group, the proposed developer, acknowledge a homeless person camping by the river might qualify for housing in the proposed development.

“Anybody can sign up for affordable housing, and anybody can live in affordable housing no matter who they are,” Makenzie Dibble, a Danco project manager, said. “They have to income qualify and/or be on a qualified entry list if it’s special needs housing.”

Dibble estimates her company, founded in 1986, has completed about 30 affordable housing projects.

“Our projects are all successful,” she said.

“Somewhere in all of this is a back-story of money, special interests and sheer deception to Lassen County residents,” Anderson alleged. “It would be nice to be on a level playing field with good, honest information sharing. Reasonable notification is not a subjective Facebook post or the expectation that residents constantly review board of supervisors meeting minutes on the chance of a back-door homeless housing build may be brewing. At a minimum, written notification should have been provided to McKinley School, (the) Eskaton Manor senior living facility and residents in close proximity to North Mesa and Fourth streets.”

According to that PowerPoint presentation, affordable housing is defined as spending less that 30 percent of one’s gross household income on housing costs, including utilities, rent or mortgage principal and interest, and the project focuses upon housing for some of the poorest county residents. At a recent Lassen County Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Supervisor Chris Gallagher pointed out some county employees would qualify for such housing.

Transitional housing is defined as temporary housing with supportive services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness with the goal of interim stability and support to successfully move to and maintain permanent housing.

Supportive housing includes wrap-around supportive services such as case management, counseling, education and peer support.

The PowerPoint presentation describes the project as affordable rental housing for members of the local workforce who meet income eligibility requirements and permanent supportive housing designed for those with special needs.

Both the county and the developer will provide the security and supportive services as needed; 40 percent of the units will be restricted to households earning 60 percent of the Area Median Income or less and 20 percent of the units will be restricted to households earning 50 percent of the AMI or less. Many county residents would qualify for the program, as the AMI for a family of four in Lassen County is $75,700.

“This is not another Crossroads,” Anderson alleged. “This is a major housing development with 40 to 50 units that will likely increase in size with both massive short- and long-term costs to Lassen County taxpayers with no ending date … This homeless housing complex has been in progress for years without honest, direct disclosure to the public … This is going to have a major lifestyle impact on children attending McKinley School and living in the area” because the proposed project would allow sex offenders to live approximately 1,000 feet from McKinley School; that the project costs would be paid by Lassen County taxpayers; that the proposed contractor — Danco — is not from Lassen County; that elderly residents in the neighborhood would feel unsafe; that property values would plummet; that the development would result in “increased property crimes, increased narcotic use and sales and violence.”

At a recent city council meeting, Egan said the tax burden for the project is borne by the people of the state of California, not entirely or specifically by Lassen County residents.

In a telephone interview today, Egan said the county would continue to provide the services it offers to any county residents who might be living in the proposed development. He also said the restrictions and requirements for people such as sex offenders fully remain in force regardless of where they live.