Stop large-scale homeless housing build 1,000 feet from McKinley School

I feel very fortunate for myself and my family to reside in Susanville for 33 years. It is a beautiful place with amazing people. On Feb. 13, 2023, I was listening to the local radio station, and I was shocked to hear the Lassen County Board of Supervisors meeting was scheduled for the morning of Feb. 14, 2023, with an agenda item of a “supportive housing site proposed for N. Mesa and Fourth streets.” I attended the board of supervisors’ meeting with an overflow crowd extending into both hallways. Following a long wait through other agenda items, residents universally voiced objections to the proposal. After the meeting, I left confused, angry, and I felt betrayed by the county and city elected officials.

I think right now it’s important to tell people the soft words (i.e., supportive, transitional housing) being used to define the homeless housing complex are false. It’s homeless housing, not supportive, transitional etc. It’s located approximately 1,000 feet from McKinley School and will permit some sex offenders to reside at the homeless housing units. The following costs will be paid by Lassen County residents: surveying, environmental impact study, soil studies, drainage abatement, paving, sidewalks, fencing, associated ADA costs, high building costs due to elevated California building code standard requirements, and the housing build which will be contracted to Danco Construction from Arcata, California not a local contractor. Lassen County residents will also pay for staffing prior to occupancy and after occupancy. Following occupancy, costs for electric, heating, air conditioning, water, sewer, landscape maintenance, food, insurance, medical care, dental, mental health, and the list goes on, will be paid by Lassen County residents. This is not another Crossroads. 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.

Another soft word being used is grant money. Grant money is not free money; it is tax money that we all have taken from our paychecks. Our elected city and county officials have been less than transparent with the public regarding this major high-cost project which appears now to be by design. Many residents living on North Mesa and Fourth streets did not learn of the homeless housing proposed site until a comment on the radio the day before the board of supervisors meeting on Feb. 14, 2023. Another North Mesa Street resident learned of the project when he observed a surveyor at the North Mesa Street site, and upon questioning was informed the site was being surveyed for a homeless housing build. This is being described as a proposed site. This is perplexing to residents because the site has already been surveyed. The Lassen County Board of Supervisors described the Fourth Street and North Mesa street building site as only in early stages during the board meeting on Feb. 14, 2023. Two years prior, in 2021, Danco attempted to purchase the Lassen County property at North Mesa Street and failed. The reason is not specified but likely due to zoning restrictions, which in December 2022 were changed by both the city and county designating the North Mesa site as “exempt surplus.” Once again, this property belongs to all Lassen County residents and the surplus designation is misleading. This homeless housing complex has been in progress for years without honest, direct disclosure to the public. This property belongs to Lassen County residents, and in 2021 or earlier, city and county officials should have notified the public of the possibility of a major homeless housing complex being placed within 1,000 feet of McKinley School and at a major expense to all Lassen County residents. The reason is clear: anticipated and justified public opposition.

This is going to have a major lifestyle impact on children attending McKinley School and living in the area. Parents will not feel secure letting their children play in their own yards, at the school, and in our neighborhood. Elderly residents will not feel safe and secure in their homes or walking in our neighborhood. Additionally, the homeowners in our neighborhood will suffer decreased home values–for many of us, this is the bulk of our life savings and our investments. Unfortunately, with homeless housing units comes increased property crimes, increased narcotic use and sales and violence. The most likely victims are those living in close proximity to the homeless housing complex. 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. Homeowners who choose to sell their homes because they no longer feel safe will have a difficult time selling, and likely have to offer their homes at a low sale price.

Most homeowners simply can’t afford to move. Those who stay will have a higher risk assessment and suffer higher homeowners’ insurance costs because they live in close proximity to a homeless housing complex. Additional costs with moving and purchasing a home outside of Lassen County will add to thousands in additional costs. The decreasing home values will result in less tax being collected to provide all the services this homeless housing project is promising for a period of at least 55 years, according to the grant application. Will property owners in the near vicinity of the homeless housing complex be financially compensated for the decreased values of their properties? Which agency will be reimbursing the homeowners and when will this occur? Will these home owners qualify for remuneration for their lost property values?

It seems just a short time ago Lassen County needed a sales tax increase just to maintain police, sheriff and fire department staffing. I voted in favor because I wanted to maintain the safety of my community. Now county and city officials expect Lassen County taxpayers to pay for a 40- to 50-unit homeless housing complex, which appears to have a startup cost approaching $1 million, followed by thousands in long-term costs. This is not short-term we will pay; our children will pay, and their children will pay. The safety we have may have gained with the sales tax increase will be lost due to safety issues associated with large homeless housing complexes. Major financial projects costs should be fully disclosed to the taxpayers, and our children should not have to suffer a lifestyle change because they are no longer safe in our own community due to poor planning.

Another concern is possible political posturing to make this is an issue of location, rather than Lassen County residents not wanting a large homeless housing complex placed anywhere in their city or county. I was shocked that a site selection 1,000 feet from an elementary school (McKinley), just a few feet from a senior living facility (Eskaton Manor) and dead center in the middle of an established neighborhood would be drafted, let alone proposed and surveyed. Was this done by city and county officials knowing the community would object to a poor site selection? For city and county officials it would be easier to make this an issue of new site location instead of convincing Lassen County residents to pay for a homeless housing complex they do not want in any location.

Somewhere in all of this is a back-story of money, special interests and sheer deception to Lassen County residents. 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 supervisor meeting minutes on the chance a back-door homeless housing build may be brewing. At a minimum, written notification should have been provided to McKinley school, Eskaton Manor senior living facility and residents located in close proximity to North Mesa and Fourth streets.

Finally, I would like to compliment the large number of neighborhood residents for attending the board of supervisors’ meeting to voice their universal opposition to the homeless housing build located 1,000 feet from McKinley school near the intersection of N. Mesa and Fourth streets in Susanville.

Brian Anderson, Susanville