‘Not a fan of affordable housing’: North Sacramento councilman still doesn’t grasp his job

·5 min read

You had to be listening closely to catch it. Sacramento’s City Council was minutes away from approving a deal that will convert a Best Western motel into supportive housing for the homeless when Councilman Sean Loloee made a stunning revelation.

“As much as I’m not a fan of affordable housing, this is a slam dunk,” the first-year councilman said last week before the unanimous vote.

That’s right. Not a fan of affordable housing.

Opinion

It’s the sort of statement that can get you condemned in a liberal city such as Sacramento, where local housing policies like ending single-family zoning, easing accessory dwelling unit regulations and streamlining low-income developments are widely celebrated.

I called and emailed Loloee to offer him a chance to explain, but he didn’t respond. That doesn’t reflect well on him considering that he ran for public office, and being accessible and accountable comes with the job.

Despite this, it’s important to understand who Loloee is and who he represents. The freshman District 2 representative serves Del Paso Heights, Hagginwood and the Roseville Road corridor — tough neighborhoods where low-income housing is needed as much as in any area in the city.

Residents and business owners in North Sacramento acutely face every economic challenge in California. Folks here are working-class or poor, consumed by the rigors of simply surviving day-to-day life. They’ve been here for generations but lack generational wealth.

District 2 is made up of essential workers, and the biggest change families experienced during the pandemic was the overnight disruption of their livelihoods when public health orders forced them to stay home.

Still, the context of Loloee’s disturbing admission last week, speaking up for nearby residents who may be averse to a new homeless shelter, reveals who he is and how much he has to learn about being an elected leader.

“We have to take their rights into consideration as well,” Loloee said during the discussion. “From these conversations and what I’m hearing around the homeless community — we think about the businesses, which is great. But very seldom do we talk about the residents in that environment and how this is going to affect them.”

It’s a fair point. Our unhoused community is complex, and each person faces unique challenges. That places an uneven burden on homeowners and renters who live near the homeless shelters that city leaders bring online. Officials who don’t consider affected residents when making such decisions are ignoring their constituents.

But Loloee’s views point to an undercurrent of housing resistance that isn’t exclusive to the privileged class or a stereotypical NIMBY. It comes from a deep-seated skepticism about economic development and decades of insufficient housing policies. And it comes from people and communities that have every reason to be suspicious because, historically, politicians have failed to deliver.

“Affordable housing has become a political buzzword,” said Ross Hendrix, president of the Del Paso Heights Neighborhood Association. “You can call it affordable housing, but when it’s all said and done, it’s not affordable. It’s really a bunch of B.S. I agree with (Loloee) on that point.”

In revealing his dislike for affordable housing as he made a case for nearby residents who might be unhappy, Loloee emphasized concerns that property owners — wealthy or not — have about low-income projects. They are shaped by previous notions of public tenements and subsidized housing.

“If you’re a homeowner and a project like that comes along, you’d have issues with it,” Hendrix said. “It’s always been that way and will always be that way.”

This is where Loloee horribly misses the mark. Effective representatives don’t just repeat the concerns of their districts. They consider them and then act judiciously to improve their constituents’ lives, not to perpetuate long-standing suspicions to the point where nothing changes.

Loloee is an Iranian immigrant, owner of the Viva Supermarket chain and a River City Food Bank board member. He’s a business-friendly political newcomer who knows the right things to say on equity issues but often contradicts himself with his actions.

As a candidate, Loloee promised to promote business ownership opportunities for Black and brown people. But one of the first things he pursued on the council was a cannabis business moratorium for his district, creating obstacles specifically for Black entrepreneurs emerging from a city program trying to create equity in the legal cannabis market. Marijuana business zoning does need to be adjusted in Sacramento, but freezing permits as Black-owned companies were about to get them undermines the entire program.

Loloee called for more affordable housing in Del Paso Heights when he was making his case to voters last year, critical of the overemphasis of economic attention on Natomas and Land Park. He told The Bee he wanted to create a task force to encourage low-income residential projects and “cut regulations for small businesses to invest in our area.”

Yet this week Loloee threw his support behind a developer proposing 147 market-rate single-family homes on vacant North Sacramento lots near Futures High School. It’s barely a mile from one of Loloee’s grocery stores and in a more well-off portion of his district, north of the highway and west of Marysville Boulevard, where there are more new builds and remodeled homes.

So while Loloee’s views on housing reflect some of the complex realities of the people he represents, his actions on the council are at odds with what his community needs. It’s his responsibility as an elected official to cut through their cynicism and change the narrative. Otherwise, he’s simply building on a status quo legacy defined by broken promises.

Building more affordable housing helps address some of his district’s biggest problems: homelessness and displacement. Loloee clearly understands the concerns his district has about housing, but it’s his job to get up and do something. Instead, he’s sowing more dissension.

When Loloee says he’s “not a fan of affordable housing,” he’s not echoing his district. He’s showing his community that he doesn’t know how to fight for their best interests, or that he won’t because their skepticism provides cover for him to advance his own.

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