Comstock's magazine 0119 - January 2019 - Page 42

n HISTORY BOOMS and busts A BRIEF OVERVIEW OF HOUSING IN THE SACRAMENTO REGION by JEFF WILSER PEOPLE LOVE TO DEBATE THE HOUSING CRISIS. Who’s to blame? What should be done? How come I can only afford to live in a shoebox? There are no easy answers. Yet one thing is undeniably true: Housing challenges are not new. “Housing is cyclical,” says local historian William Burg. “In Sacramento, we tend to have boom-and-bust cycles. We’re gold rush folks.” So to frame the issue with historical context, we’ve put to- gether a timeline of certain key events in the region’s history of housing, from John Sutter to Proposition 10. 1849 THE FIRST BRICK HOUSE George Zins was a brickmaker. He used a team of oxen to haul his bricks to Front Street, where the Embassy Suites by Hilton currently sits, and built a two-story, 35 feet by 60 feet home. And thus began the Sacramento housing market. The house cost $40,000 at the time, or around $1.2 million in today’s dollars. (California housing: never cheap.) 1849 GOLD RUSH Thousands of gold-crazy speculators stormed into Sacramento, eager to make a fortune. Most of them lived in tents. “San Fran- cisco and Sacramento had become the state’s two biggest cit- ies overnight, and there wasn’t any housing. That was our first housing boom,” Burg says. “The number of units available: zero. Everything was expensive. Land was expensive. Food was expen- sive.” Thus begins the core problem that would persist for the next 160-plus years: People want to live here, but there aren’t enough houses. 1850 SQUATTERS RIOTS New residents in Sacramento, desperate for places to live, began building log cabins on vacant lots — even if these lots belonged to 42 | January 2019 people like John Sutter. Called squatters, these folks formed the Sacramento City Settlers’ Association and contested the legality of Sutter’s land grants. (A defender of theirs: James McClatchy, Sacramento Bee founder.) Sutter wasn’t thrilled. “Notice to Squatters,” he wrote in a stern warning in the Placer Times, a triweekly paper that operat- ed from 1849 to 1850, “All persons are hereby cautioned not to settle, without my permission, on any land of mine in this Terri- tory.” The squatters dug themselves in, and the words escalated to violence. “At the corner of Fourth and J streets the Squatters were met by the Mayor [Hardin Bigelow], who ordered them to deliver up their arms and disperse,” recounts “History of Sacramento,” writ- ten in 1880. The squatters didn’t budge. They aimed their guns at the mayor. They fired. “He fell from his horse and was carried to his residence, dangerously, if not mortally, wounded.” (The mayor lived; others were killed.) The government backed Sutter’s grants; the squatters were forced to move. 1850 FLOODS AND LEVEES Enter the floods. “On Thursday morning, the entire city, within a mile of the embarcadero, was under water,” reported the Jan. 19, 1850 Placer Times. Residents drown and “many persons have lost from 10 to 50 yoke of cattle each.” Something needed to be done. So the city began constructing levees (a project that would take another 60-plus years), which gave the literal foundation for residential development. Housing construction began. The Central Pacific Railroad ran from Sacramento to Utah as part of the first transcontinental railroad.