Silent Treatment

City Hall ignores duo’s homeless solutions

By Gary Delsohn
April 2024

Add John Hodgson and Bob Chase to the long list of prominent Sacramentans frustrated with city government’s response to homelessness.

Unlike some critics who hate to see encampments but offer no solutions, these two friends, both in their 70s, pursue creative ways to make a difference.

For the past three years, Hodgson, a land-use attorney and developer, and Chase, an architect with a history of public service, worked with colleagues from the Urban Land Institute and American Association of Architects Central Valley to promote their plans for transitional housing throughout the city.

Their allies—working for free—include urban planners and designers from top architectural and planning firms, including Mogavero Architects, Dreyfuss + Blackford, DLR Group and WHA.

Taking their cue from a successful effort in Los Angeles, Hodgson, Chase and friends put together three site designs that could provide shelter and supportive services for about 6,000 people.

In the group’s presentations, the designs are characterized as “functional, cost-effective, attractive and compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Hodgson and Chase began their crusade in 2021, roughly the same time Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council proposed targeting 21 sites around town for transitional housing. That plan fizzled.

“With all due respect to the city, they don’t know how to find sites and build housing,” Hodgson says. “The private sector knows how to build housing and find sites. We’re pretty good at it.”

When Steinberg heard what Hodgson and Chase were doing, his office met with the pair.

“The mayor looked at our stuff and thought it was good,” Hodgson says. “They liked it so much it became part of his presentation to the City Council about the plan. But there was never any follow up. No one ever got back to us.

“We heard from other cities who were interested in what we were doing, but nothing from the city. With all due respect, the city is not doing anything right now, as a practical matter, to build this kind of housing.”

The plans look good on paper, with open spaces and dignified dwellings. But without specific parcels and money, it’s unclear how the city can turn site designs and concepts into results.

Unwilling to give up, Hodgson and Chase have worked with county officials. They hope a county request for proposals to develop transitional housing will produce results.

“What is really needed is to have a project go up and the media come see it and say, ‘That’s not bad,’” Chase says. “But we need that model. People need to see that these projects can be done well and responsibly.”

To understand the crisis, Chase spent time on the streets with homeless people. He participated in the latest “point-in-time” count required of cities seeking federal funds for homeless solutions.

“I would love to get more of our citizens to have conversations with these people,” Chase says. “They’d realize they’re just people. They’re not going to try to knife you or steal everything from you. They’re just trying to survive.”

As they developed their plans, the men accompanied city and county officials to Los Angeles to meet Ken Craft, founder of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission. They toured sites built in association with public and private sectors in the San Fernando Valley.

That kind of partnership doesn’t seem to exist in Sacramento.

“I always go back to something Ken told us,” Chase recalls. “We need affordable hard housing, but in the meantime the streets and the riverbank can’t be the front yard for people to wait to have that housing get built. We need more transitional housing to get people off the street now.”

Hard to argue. Here’s hoping Sacramento County finds resources and political will to get one of these projects built and serve as a model for more.

Gary Delsohn can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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