Monday, July 11, 2016

Is Mercy Housing, like the building at 7th & H streets, downtown, a good model for Homeless Housing elsewhere?

In a Bee article three days ago, that I consider to be very important, “Sacramento region stands to gain ‘tens of millions’ for homeless people reporter Anita Chabria wrote that, the The Mercy Housing complex at Seventh and H streets in Sacramento was “an integrated project” that Ben Metcalf, director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, lauded as an example of an apartment complex that doesn’t feel “institutional, “is just delightful,” and "doesn’t raise neighborhood concerns.”

Mercy Housing at 7th & H Sts.
It is explained to readers that the term “integrated model” means housing that “incorporates units for the homeless and mentally ill into projects with mainstream and affordable housing.” By having a tenancy population that is widely varied, funding for apartment complexes can come from diverse pools of money which could get housing for homeless and mentally challenged individuals into more neighborhoods. This, Metcalf calls, “the wide-ranging approach.”

City homeless services coordinator Emily Halcon is quoted in the article, saying, “It’s a difficult package to put together, but theoretically it’s the best model.” Halcon’s words are not a full-throated endorsement of the “integrated model” and a “wide-ranging approach” or that the Mercy Housing complex is the best example of what should be roughly duplicated through-out the city and county, but it does seem that Mercy Housing is, for the moment -- well in advance of a time when the county has the funds to create housing and speedily place people in apartments -- a place that deserves scrutiny to examine its merits and flaws to facilitate further thinking on “what’s the very best thing that should be done.”

Are those now living at Mercy Housing happy?

Just over a year ago, I received an email from a friend who was living in Mercy and is there still so far as I know. I quote him below, deleting some of the content only in service of brevity:

"Yes, I am at 7th & H. I LOVE IT here in a place/area I never would have chosen myself!

"Typically, most people are either satisfied here, or they hate it! Lot of drama and issues in certain areas, but truly depends on the attitude of the individual. Many of those living here would have trouble getting in other places, so there is an element of things to deal with."

One of the two similar floorplans.
Click pic to enlarge.
From what I understand, at its best, a studio apartment that a formerly-homeless person or a pair of formerly-homeless people would live in at Mercy Housing is not dissimilar from a room at, say, an average West Sac motel. There is not a living room, but the complex has a lot of communal space that has seating for people to enjoy each others’ company.

A problem for many at Mercy Housing is likely to be an absence of sustained peace and quiet. The idea of a home being one’s castle persists. The idea of a castle having a moat around it to keep others out, exists. 

Another "problem" with the 7th & H building is its ground floor. Businesses haven't wanted to locate on the ground floor for the rather-obvious reason that it's substandard housing, located across from the downtown jail. Thus the ground floor is vacant, or nearly so most of the time, with what one or two businesses are there, briefly, having very few customers.

This is something that should have been anticipated. As it is, it is a very costly mistake, resulting in there being fewer apartments than there could have been. Though, certainly, having ground-floor apartments in a downtown building would be problematic.


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