Supervisors direct staff to meet with city leaders, explore city owned Skyline and Highway 139 property as possible location for a low-income housing project

Lassen County’s Board of Supervisors heard from county staff, city leaders and many constituents during a nearly three-hour public meeting held at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 14 at Jensen Hall to discuss a possible low-income housing project on North Mesa Street in Susanville.

In the end, the supervisors directed county staff to begin discussions with the city leaders to explore using a city owned property near the intersection of Skyline Drive and Highway 139 as a possible site for the development. County Administrative Officer Richard Egan said the city might have some tasks to accomplish first, such as changing the zoning, but he thought the site could be used for such a project. He also said the North Mesa Street site that has drawn heavy fire from nearby residents is the only property the county owns within the city limits.

At the meeting’s conclusion, every supervisor said the Skyline/139 site sounded like the one to pursue. Egan remined the public the low-income housing project is still in its initial planning stages. No commitments have been made and no contracts have been signed. He also responded to questions about how much the project will cost local taxpayers — he said the tax money that funds this project has already been collected by the government.

A teary eyed Gary Bridges, chairman of the board, said he was embarrassed by allegations from community members that the Mesa Street project was some kind of backdoor deal withheld from public disclosure for some nefarious purpose. He said he was elected by the people to serve the people, and he would continue to do so as long as he was in office. He said every member of the board of supervisors is “an open book” available to the public whenever they have concerns. And he noted the board had nothing to hide and in fact had scheduled and held this meeting in Jensen Hall to accommodate a large number of people and to collect and listen to the public’s comments and concerns.

Susanville Mayor Quincy McCourt addressed the supervisors and encouraged everyone to work together to find a solution. Mayor Pro-Tem Thomas Herrera also addressed the supervisors. City Administrator Dan Newton attended the meeting, but he offered no comment.

During the meeting, two dozen or so constituents offered a mixed bag of sometimes emotional comments, some in support of the project and others in opposition.

Several speakers, including one pastor, proclaimed their Christian faith, cited the Bible and noted Jesus himself directed his followers to care for the less fortunate, provide for those in need, that whatever they did to the less fortunate, they did to Him and they were directed to love their neighbors as themselves and even to love their enemies.

But one man said such Christian contributions must come willing from the heart and not be forced upon the giver by government edicts. Another man described the homeless people walking up and down Main Street in the early morning hours as lost and “soulless.” Another commenter who said he wasn’t a Christian, suggested the believers could house the homeless in their own homes to prove their faith.

Residents who live near the proposed North Mesa Street site continued to complain about the fall of property values, drug use, crime, sex offenders and the dangers such a development poses to their young children.

Some even mentioned the site had once been designated for a city park and it was given to the county with that restriction on the deed. Egan said he was unaware of that restriction, and Bridges said he had looked into the idea the site once had been designated as a park. He said the site indeed had once been considered as a site for a park, but that proposal was scrapped by a former city administrator.

Several speakers said they themselves had been homeless is the past and said homeless individuals need a hand-up, not a hand-out. They said such support allowed them to turn around their lives.

Others said the city of Susanville has a reputation for taking care of its own, and now was the time for the community to step up and deal with this problem.

The proposed project is designed to serve the homeless people who already live in Lassen County, and that could include the homeless people who camp by the river — most of whom actually are from here. According to the proposal, those living in the units would be required to sign a lease and pay rent. The developer also would conduct background checks on those applying to live in the proposed development.

Lassen County Housing and Grants describes the  local need
County staff stressed the need for low-income housing in Lassen County is extreme. According to a PowerPoint presentation, the unofficial 2023 Point In Time numbers report 108 homeless individuals (38 unsheltered and 70 sheltered).

According to the presentation, “Our data doesn’t include people who aren’t literally homeless or at imminent risk (such as those living in doubled-up households or couch surfing). An April 22, 2022 California Department of Education report documented 74 children are experiencing homelessness in Lassen County.”

A Lassen High School official said homeless high school students attend classes there.

The county spends $39,000 a month providing housing for the needy, and some people stay in motels paid for by themselves or their families because they are unable to find affordable housing.

As of yesterday, March 23, 2023, there are 15 three-bedroom, one-bath rentals available in Lassen County. The rent on these units is between $1,300 and $1,800 per month. There are five two-bedroom, one-bath rentals available. The rent on these units is between $825 and $1,700 per month. There are three one-bedroom, one-bath units available. The rent on these units is between $600 and $900 per month.

“Some landlords require that applicants demonstrate they have incomer that is three times the rent,” according to the report. Using that standard, the rent a person on disability would be able to pay is about $330 per month.

Local waiting lists for rentals
According to the county’s presentation, 45 people are on the waiting list for a rental at the Citrus Manor Apartments. The wait is six months. There are 45 people on the waiting list at Eskaton Lassen Manor. The wait there is six to 12 months. There are 47 people on the list for a one-bedroom apartment and 36 on the list for a two-bedroom apartment at the Meadowbrook Apartments. The wait is 10 to 12 months. There are more than 60 on the list for a one-bedroom apartment at Millview Apartments. The wait is 12 months. There are 15 on the list for a two-bedroom apartment at Millview Apartments. The wait is six months. There are 58 on the list for a one-bedroom apartment and 48 on the list for a two-bedroom apartment at Parkview Apartments. The wait is 10 to 12 months. It’s unknown how many people may be on more than one waiting list.

Who experiences homelessness and housing instability?
According to the county, those in need include families with children, seniors, high school and college students, veterans, single individuals, unaccompanied youth, people who are unemployed, people with disabilities, victims of domestic violence and multiple families sharing single family units.