Q&A: Outgoing leader of Sacramento Housing Alliance says regional approach needed to tackle affordable housing crisis

Kendra Lewis, one of the Sacramento area’s most prominent advocates for affordable housing, is on the move. Lewis served the past two years as executive director of the nonprofit Sacramento Housing Alliance, which advocates for safe, stable and accessible affordable housing in the region. She recently accepted a position at the Sierra Health Foundation.

Affordable housing advocate Kendra LewisCourtesy of Kendra Lewis

Lewis spoke with CapRadio about her achievements at the Sacramento Housing Alliance and the challenges ahead as the region grapples with rising rents and a severe lack of affordable homes.

The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What are some of the biggest challenges to building more affordable housing in Sacramento?

I would say no 1 is really the competition that our region has to get more funding at the state level. It’s the competition with LA and San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area. I would say NIMBYism is huge and that’s a problem because I’ve witnessed far too many projects that ended up getting derailed because of NIMBYism. [Confronting that] needs to be a regional approach. The city of Sacramento cannot handle it on its own. One city in the region cannot handle this on its own.

What would that regional approach look like?

The county of Sacramento gets far more money and it has more of an obligation to deal with the services side of the crisis. And that’s something that the Sacramento Housing Alliance was very much discussing for a priority for 2023 is really more of a focus [on planning for affordable housing] at the county level.

There are quite a few large housing projects planned in Sacramento in the next few years. How much of that growth will be affordable housing?

There are definitely market rate projects, especially in Midtown. But there are quite a few affordable housing projects that builders are doing in partnership with SHA. There’s some projects that are a little different that are not in the traditional sense.

Sacramento used to have an inclusionary and inclusionary zoning ordinance that required a certain percentage of new housing development to include affordable units. Why did our region eliminate that and should it be brought back?

I just want to say: Politics. It wasn’t because it didn’t make sense. It is no longer around due largely to politics. I will say, though, I think some of the new council members, especially in Sacramento, are looking at that.

How helpful are those ordinances?

They’re very helpful. And, in fact, several advocacy organizations and advocates throughout the last year really reached out to SHA about revisiting [an inclusionary ordinance]. When you look at cities that have it, you can see the difference. And Sacramento has the advantage, unlike many cities, of having land and space. So there’s not a reason not to have inclusionary. Unfortunately, it was politics. So hopefully through some of the coalition building that has been going on around inclusionary, it’ll be something that will come back to the table.

Looking back at your time with the Sacramento Housing Alliance, [SHA] what accomplishments are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the fact that working with our partners we were really able to elevate the work that SHA does. And we really broke through and into neighborhoods and communities who just didn’t know who we were and what our role was. I think that we built partnerships around the region in ways that I didn’t even see possible. I’m proud of Aggie Square and the work that we did with that, getting to kind of the end of the road. I’m very proud of, although it’s still a negotiation, the work that we were moving forward with the community benefits agreement. And I’m really proud of how we elevated what affordable housing is and started, I think. We started to really break through the way that people look at affordable housing and who lives in affordable housing and the need for affordable housing.

[For context: Aggie Square is UC Davis’ future science and tech development near Broadway and Stockton Boulevard. It is slated to bring thousands of jobs to the region. The project is expected to also add affordable housing in surrounding communities through a Community Benefits Partnership Agreement negotiated by the university and the city of Sacramento.]

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