Disabled man files lawsuit against Shasta County over affordable housing
REDDING, Calif. —
48-year-old Michael Williamson is one of two men who filed a lawsuit against Shasta County for failing to properly place zoning areas, a process of planning for land to allocate certain kinds of structures in certain areas, for affordable housing and shelters.
Williamson was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy at age 19 but said he's had disabilities since he was a child. He needed a wheelchair until the age of 7.
When he moved to Redding, he got a degree at Shasta College and got married. But when his marriage ended in divorce, he said that's where his struggle to find a place to live began.
"When I got divorced, I started looking for a place because you know, I wanted to be able to see my children and fight for whatever custody I can get for them, but nobody would rent to me because I didn't make enough [money]," said Williamson.
Williamson was living on the streets, in motels, barely scraping by trying to live on his Social Security and Disability Insurance benefits. That all changed when his friend gave him an opportunity to live with him as a roommate. He said the county has not done enough to help those who are trying to stay off the streets.
"Wow, if you're not going to help somebody like me, that was born with a disability but is trying to make themselves better, these people have no chance," said Williamson.
That's when Williamson and 81-year-old Tracy Bowman filed a lawsuit with the help of Legal Services of Northern California, accusing the county of failing to follow California state laws by not pushing forward zoning requirements that would make it easier to build more affordable housing.
Assistant County Counsel James Ross admitted the county has not followed state law with zoning requirements for housing but said the law is flawed because it was written with an urban areas state of mind and not giving consideration for rural areas that have a harder time building affordable housing because the urban infrastructure isn't in place.
Williamson expressed that the struggles of being homeless are difficult to describe.
"[Have] you ever seen those commercials on TV to ask you to donate money to save animals that need to be rescued and they're just waiting and waiting and waiting to be rescued? That's what it feels like to be homeless," said Williamson with tears running down his face.
He said he's lucky he got the opportunity to not live in motels or on the streets and is thankful to his friend for giving him a place to stay.
Legal Services said the county has expressed interest in resolving the issue and that they don't know the timeline of when the hearing for the suit will be set.