SACRAMENTO – The future of a historic housing project that emerged out of a civil rights case in Sacramento is under review by the city. The evaluation will affect the living of the low-income residents who cherish the properties that were built almost 70 years ago.

The housing projects, now the one only one of its kind in Sacramento, were built in the 1940s and 1950s. They were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The analysis will also have an impact on the surrounding middle-to-upper class neighborhoods near the housing project.

The Sacramento City Council voted on Aug. 25 to pass a plan, not a project, to move forward with a potential revitalization of West Broadway, an area that includes the city’s only, standing, public housing units.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the area needs to be revitalized as well as the housing and both can be accomplished. He also said that the plan could increase housing on the west end of Broadway.

“First of all, our absolute commitment must be to ensure that the 751 or so households are cared for first,” Mayor Steinberg said a few hours before the City Council vote. “In other words, under either the rehabilitation option or if some units are removed, that those families get quality, comfortable housing. Volume is important here. There is a potential build out over 3,000 units.”

The West Broadway Specific Plan (WBSP) area is 292-acres and is bounded by the Sacramento River on the west; U.S. Highway 50 and Broadway on the north; Muir Way and 5th Street on the east; and 4th Avenue on the south.
The aging Alder Grove and Marina Vista housing complexes, operated by the Sacramento Housing Redevelopment Agency, could be part of a rehabilitation process. Or, the units, as the last option, could be demolished.
Constructed in the 1940s and 1950s, Alder Grove, then named New Helvetia and Seavey Circle, now titled Marina Vista, were constructed mainly to service military families of McClellan and Mather Field Air Force bases. Between 6th and 9th streets, New Helvetia (Alder Grove) contained 360-units along Broadway. But only 16 units were allotted to African Americans, which was a clear sign of segregation.

This injustice caught the attention of a Tuskegee Institute graduate by the name of Nathaniel “Nat” S. Colley. Attorney Colley was Sacramento’s first Black person to establish a private law firm and he used his office to fight housing discrimination and unfair employment practices.

The pioneering attorney practiced law for more than 40 years. In 1952, Colley secured a ruling from the Sacramento County Superior Court that forbade segregation by the Sacramento Housing Authority. New Helvetia (Alder Grove) was desegregated.

Five years later, Colley persuaded the Superior Court in Ming v. Horgan to declare that developers who received funds from the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration could not engage in discrimination.

The 325-plus acres that the housing projects sits on is attractive to real estate developers. They basically sit in a pocket that borders the north Land Park neighborhood on the east and south.

Miller Regional Park, with its marina view of the Sacramento River, is west of the housing projects. In close proximity of Miller Park is the Mill at Broadway, which is the catalyst that leads all the way to the WBSP’s part in redevelopment.

Between 3rd and 4th streets, The Mill at Broadway, northwest of Land Park, is a developing community of penthouses, cottages, garden villas, and lofts. It also happens to be the area where Steinberg announced his first bid to run for mayor.

Operated by Northwest Land Park, LLC, the Mill at Broadway intends to phase out 1,000 homes circled around Olympians Park, a four-acre recreation area that will include a dog park and bike-jogging loop.

The Mill at Broadway’s current lifestyle is on the other end of the spectrum compared to life in Alder Grove and Marina Vista, where a majority of the residents say they are comfortable.

Poor ventilation, the inability of access for the disabled, and plumbing and electrical issues plague the housing units. Also, the housing projects cut off quicker inroads to The Mill at Broadway.

“While we work on this long-term vision, this immediate response that we need to do to help the residents there now is already underway,” said City Councilman Steve Hansen, who is the outgoing representative of the area. “It’s probably not unexpected, but there are some neighbors who have long advocated that we get rid of public housing altogether. This plan does the opposite of that.”

There are no plans to demolish any of the historic public-housing structures, officials at SHRA say. The agency has already relocated many residents from the Twin Rivers Housing Complex to make way for mixed-income communities.

Still, some residents at Alder Grove and Marina Vista question what they deem uncertainty. Macheri Smith, a current tenant at Alder Grove, said she believes that rehabilitation can be done without the rest of the redevelopment plan.

“They say (the plan) could take 20 years, but at any given time they can say they just got a grant and that grant will allow us to move forward, ‘let’s do it in two years,’” Ms. Smith said.

North of downtown Sacramento, Twin Rivers, built as Dos Rios in the 1940s, was torn down two years ago. The area is currently under construction to develop a new housing project.

SHRA has been applauded for Twin Rivers’ transitioning of residents. But some elected officials worry that the situation for Alder Grove and Marina Vista could go in the same direction despite many trying to advertise the WBSP as a way to improve life.

The WBSP does not preclude demolition. Demolition of either public housing site would only occur if SHRA was able to prove to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that rehabilitation of the units is not cost-effective.

City Councilman Allen Warren, a developer who represents District 2, grew up in Del Paso Heights, fully understands that housing for low-income families is a major issue in the city as well as the region.

But amid a pandemic, unemployment on the rise, and the homeless population increasing every day, Warren said this is a bad time to start planning a project that could affect the historic housing project.

“This housing project is what, 70 to 80 percent African American?” Warren said. “To me, it further demonstrates the issues that we have and the reason why people are still in the streets. To me, this is a major step in the wrong direction.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a three-part report on the West Broadway Specific Plan to be published by The OBSERVER.

By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer