By Verbal Adam | OBSERVER Correspondent

Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty stand in front of the EDD headquarters, which is identified to be turned into housing on Capitol Mall. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Relief may soon be coming for at least some of Sacramento’s thousands of residents struggling to find affordable housing.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced Jan. 31 that three state-owned buildings along Capitol Mall will be transformed into hundreds of living spaces by 2026 — about 20% of which will be reserved for affordable housing.

The Department of General Services will be seeking developers to redevelop the Employment Development Department headquarters and the State Personnel Board building along Capitol Mall and the EDD Solar building at 751 N Street. The buildings collectively sit on 700,000 square feet, 500,000 of which is planned as living space.

The announcement comes at a time when Sacramento is experiencing record rent prices and homelessness. The average Sacramento apartment costs $1,917, according to The biennial Homeless Point-in-Time Count published in 2022 lists Sacramento County’s homeless population at 9,278, an increase of 67% since the prior count published in 2020.

The EDD Solar building at 751 N Street is one of the buildings planned for conversion. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

“We have the opportunity here to address two key issues for our city and our region,” Assemblymember Kevin McCarty said. “How do we bring more life and activity to the heart of downtown? And how do we build new, needed housing in our core? Utilize the existing core four- or five-story buildings to build upwards of 400 units right here in the core of Sacramento. This is an exciting opportunity.” 

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said the proposed project could bring as many as 1,000 housing units to the area. “We will work with the state, our development partners, and the community around Capitol Mall to create something that truly enhances our city’s front door,” he added.

The move is in keeping with the governor’s 2019 Excess State Land Executive Order, which directs state agencies to identify excess state land for the purposes of affordable housing development and preservation. 

“In California, we are taking every opportunity and using every tool available to build more housing, faster – including reviewing our own portfolio of excess land to transform state property into housing,” Newsom said. “Our excess land strategy is part of a multipronged approach to tackle the housing crisis in California, which includes greater accountability, streamlining the building process and providing incentives along with unprecedented resources to communities willing to step up and meet their housing commitments.”

The EDD Solar building at 751 N Street is one of the buildings planned for conversion. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

During the 1960s, downtown Sacramento was a booming residential metropolis with an active government employment sector. The COVID-19 pandemic halted the commercial and government usage of the downtown spaces as more employees began working from home.

Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, who represents District 4, where the properties are located, shared her vision for their development.

“A lot of the downtown businesses have developed to thrive on the state workers,” she said. “If there was a state holiday, everything was shut down because that was the consumer business. And this is how we pull ourselves out of that and start to really reimagine what downtown would look like as a more 24/7, vibrant community [that] people live in.”