An illegal marijuana grow house in the Glen Elder neighborhood will be transformed into a family home after the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office and Vice Mayor Eric Guerra encouraged the owner to donate it to Habitat of Humanity of Greater Sacramento as an alternative to paying civil fines to the City.

The donation, facilitated by the City’s Justice for Neighbors program, represents a novel approach to dealing with the problem of illegal grow houses. A disproportionate number of these houses are found in Guerra’s District 6, which includes much of south Sacramento east of Highway 99 and north of Florin Road, as well as in Councilmember Larry Carr’s District 8, also in south Sacramento.

“Through the leadership of Habitat for Humanity and City staff, we have an opportunity to heal a community that has been harmed by illegal grow houses, and at the same time find an opportunity for a family to be a partner in the American Dream,” Guerra said.

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Illegal grow houses in the City of Sacramento where enforcement and plant abatement has occurred.

City Attorney Susana Alcala-Wood initially suggested that the city work with the owner to have the house donated to a charity.  She said she went to Guerra’s office, and “they ran with it.”

The City Attorney’s Office has stepped up enforcement against illegal grow houses in the past year, and Alcala-Wood said the City has collected $3.3 million in fines in the past 13 months.  But in many cases, it takes a long journey through the courts to actually collect, and Alcala-Wood said asset donation can be an alternative that works for both parties. She cited a case she worked on as City Attorney for Modesto in which a house that was the target of a code enforcement case became a shelter for abused women.

Renovation work on the Glen Elder house will start in October and should be finished by the end of February, according to Habitat for Humanity. The three-bedroom home will go to a single mother and her three daughters. They will have to put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” working alongside volunteers to rehab the structure. At the end of construction, the family will purchase the home with a 30-year, 0 percent interest mortgage.

“Habitat Greater Sacramento could not be more excited about this unique partnership with the city to provide more affordable home-ownership opportunities to low-income, hardworking families,” said Leah Miller, President and CEO of the local Habitat chapter. “At Habitat, our mission is to serve and empower as many people as we can with affordable housing solutions with the resources we have. As such, we are constantly looking for creative, collaborative and out-of-the box solutions and partnerships to help people to achieve strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.”

Citing the potential to do more such transfers, Guerra and Councilmember Jay Schenirer have requested that City staff explore creating a pilot program that would make property donation to local non-profit organizations an option for grow house owners facing civil penalties from the city.

In addition to supporting families, Schenirer said he would like to see the program create more housing that helps young people experiencing homelessness, a group that is often overlooked.

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“A donation program like this has the potential to improve our neighborhoods while at the same time providing more badly needed affordable housing for low-income families and for other populations, such as homeless youth,” Schenirer said.

Options for the pilot program could be presented to the City Council as soon as May.

The goal of the City’s Justice for Neighbors program is to establish partnerships between the City Attorney’s Office, enforcement officers, and the community to efficiently and promptly eliminate or reduce threats to the public health and safety in the city’s neighborhoods.

Since February 2016, the Justice for Neighbors program has levied penalties against 367 illegal grow houses, abating more than 150,000 plants. The average number of plants per house is approximately 415.