Busted grow houses converted to Habitat for Humanity homes under Sacramento plan

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Habitat for Humanity considers it a win-win situation for both affordable housing and busted growers.

The City of Sacramento and Habitat for Humanity whipped up a plan to kill two birds with one stone—offering people busted with grow houses to donate their house to a worthy cause instead of paying high penalties.

Since busted growers already face six-digit amounts of money in administrative penalties, this program would simply allow them to put their properties to good use instead, perhaps reducing costs in the process. Under the program, property owners who get cited for illegally running cannabis grow operations can choose to donate their property directly to Habitat for Humanity. The program is called Justice for Neighbors (JFN).

NBC affiliate KRCA 3 profiled the story, including two houses that have already opted to be converted to Habitat for Humanity homes.

“This program is a great example of the city thinking outside the box,” City of Sacramento Senior Deputy City Attorney Emilio Camacho said.

The JFN program is run through the Sacramento City Attorney’s Office. JFN was launched in 2006—targeting what they call “major physical and criminal nuisances that degrade the quality of life in the City’s neighborhoods.” Cannabis grow houses are considered one of many types of nuisances that make people say “not in my neighborhood.” This also involves drug trade, human trafficking, and other security hazards.

Cannabis grow homes aren’t as dangerous as meth houses, per se, so there’s no reason to not put a good house to use. The home is remodeled, then an approved family in need of affordable housing can buy the house with a 30-year fixed-rate at 0% interest mortgage. We all know how bad the housing market has become.

According to KRCA 3, two homes have already completed the conversion process, and a third home in South Sacramento is currently being converted. City records show that the total administrative penalties for the illegal cannabis grown at the third home was $372,500. The historical value of the house when it was donated last year was $354,500—so in that case, the perpetrators theoretically saved themselves nearly $20,000 in penalties. It sounds like a win-win situation.

When homes are converted, it typically involves demolition, down to the bare bones in some cases. In that case, the non-socially acceptable smell of the plants is surely gone.

“Strip it all back down to the studs, and then from there, we rebuild,” Leah Miller, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento, said.

“We’re going to redo the siding; we’re going to put in new installation, new electrical, new drywall. Everything in here is going to be brand new.”

“It’s not only the opportunity to create a new affordable home for our community but also helps to alleviate blight in the neighborhood. We’re here in a residential neighborhood, and this home was a nuisance to those people who live here and the families who live here because of the illegal activity that was happening,” Miller said.

KRCA 3 also profiled one of the members of the families involved, Yong Chang, whose husband and four kids are expected to move into one of the houses by late fall or early winter.

The city is taking a situation into its own hands. It’s a problem not only at the city level, but the federal level as well. Civil asset forfeitures, especially in Sacramento, leads to the waste of good resources. In 2018 alone, U.S. law enforcement agencies seized over 100 homes in the Sacramento area. The Justice Department filed civil forfeiture actions for the homes if probable cause for a crime is established.

It’s the opposite chain of events from what’s happening less than 200 miles away in Coalinga, where a former prison site is being converted into a commercial (legal) grow house.

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