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Sacramento mayoral candidate profile: Former city council member Steve Hansen

Candidate Steve Hansen on Jan. 4, 2024. (Photo by Fred Greaves)
CapRadio interviewed the four major candidates for Sacramento mayor in the March 5 primary election. We asked how their life experience has shaped their approach to dealing with two of Sacramento’s most pressing problems: The city’s homelessness crisis and severe lack of affordable housing.
The first place Steve Hansen truly felt at home in Sacramento was at the two-bedroom blue bungalow he bought in North Oak Park in 2005.

Hansen was in his mid-20s and looking to put down roots in his adopted city. He had launched a career in public policy, years after a traumatic childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“This was my first neighborhood — my first home where I had stability,” said Hansen, now 44 and a former Sacramento City Council member, outside the century-old home in January.

The steady life Hansen found in Sacramento contrasted with the chaos of his early years, which he said included nine moves by his 10th birthday.

During some stretches, he lived in a car with his mother, other times at a domestic violence shelter, Hansen said. “My family really struggled. My parents didn’t go to college. They divorced when I was young.”

The stability Hansen would later enjoy at the blue bungalow in Oak Park didn’t last long. After buying the home at the height of the housing bubble, Hansen sold it two years later in a short sale, as home values cratered nationwide and thousands of Sacramentans lost their homes during the Great Recession.

“Their lives were destroyed by foreclosures and short sales. It just seemed dismal, like we were Detroit in a way,” he recounted.

Hansen said his story — facing adversity, over and over — is not unlike that of the city he wants to lead as mayor.

“Part of the message for me has been resilience throughout my childhood and beyond,” he said. “And that resilience continues to drive my view of Sacramento — that there’s still hope.”
Hansen’s plans on homelessness
Hansen was first elected to the City Council in 2012 and again in 2016. He represented the central city, was considered politically moderate and an ally to Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

But some critics said Hansen was too close with the city’s business establishment and that his efforts to protect those struggling with skyrocketing rents were only “half measures.”

In a surprise to many observers, he lost his bid for a third term in 2020 to Council member Katie Valenzuela, a progressive community organizer who called for comparatively stronger police oversight and renter protections.

In this year’s race for mayor, Hansen is the only major candidate who said they’ve experienced homelessness. He has also proposed policies arguably more focused on enforcement than any of the other candidates.

Hansen supports, for example, the concept of a citywide daytime homeless camping ban. The controversial idea was floated late last year by two council members. In addition, he’s pledged to strengthen existing city ordinances that prohibit camping on sidewalks, near schools and on private property, according to his campaign website.

Hansen also backs County District Attorney Thien Ho's decision to sue city leaders over what the DA says is their failure to enforce existing laws on homelessness. The city’s inaction threatens public safety, Hansen argued.

“We should not accept bad behavior. I really believe we should be compassionate but firm,” he said. “The city has had, at best, an anemic response that if they bury their head in the sand it will go away, but it’s gotten so bad.”

“When you don’t satisfy people’s cries for help, the DA and others have stepped in,” Hansen added.

As mayor, Hansen said he would satisfy those calls by ensuring Sacramento aggressively pursues funding for mental health treatment for unhoused residents. He also said he would also explore opening more “Pallet shelters” for unhoused residents, also known as tiny home communities.

Hansen’s “compassionate but firm” approach on homelessness, in part, has earned him the endorsement of many of the region’s biggest real estate and business groups, including the Sacramento Association of Realtors and Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

The groups have urged city leaders to do more to remove homeless encampments, which they blame for making commercial districts and some residential neighborhoods unsightly and unsafe.

Former metro chamber president Amanda Blackwood described Hansen as “a practical problem solver.”

“If we’re trying to solve a problem on homelessness,” Blackwood said, “and how many (shelter) sites we can find, Steve is the kind of guy that will take out the map, look at the space, whiteboard it out with you, call the five owners, find out what those issues are, (and) solve those issues.”

On affordable housing, Hansen said Sacramento must build more homes at all price points and make it easier to obtain city building permits. He pointed to his work on the council helping pass a $100 million fund for affordable housing in 2020, saying he’ll expand on that effort as mayor if elected.

Hansen described himself on his campaign website as “a champion for tenants and renter protections,” citing his work helping pass the Tenant Protection Relief Act, in 2019. The law limits how much landlords can increase rent to 5% plus inflation and bans evictions without a cause.

More stable footing

Nearly two decades after he sold his Oak Park bungalow during the housing crisis, Hansen said he’s on stronger footing. He owns a new home in South Natomas. He runs a public affairs firm. And he’s a family man.

“I have two young children and they are my life,” said Hansen, noting he and his partner have adopted two boys.

If elected, Hansen would be Sacramento’s first openly gay mayor. Growing up, he said he faced threats and intimidation for being gay. The threats haven’t stopped: Just last year Hansen said someone poured pink nail polish all over his car.

“I think that was just a clear sign,” he said, “that some people didn’t like me enough when it came to running for mayor.”

Despite the attacks, Hansen said he has no plans to back down.

“As a gay kid, I got bullied a lot. I don’t take kindly to bullying,” he added. “I’ve had to face adversity and fear repeatedly and just continue to do what I’m called to do. And I feel like Sacramento needs people who are grounded in serving the city, doing good and making sure our community has what it needs.”

Mail ballots for the March primary were sent to all registered voters in Sacramento County starting Feb. 5. If no mayoral candidate wins more than half the vote, the leading two will face off in November.

Contact CapRadio reporter Chris Nichols at

This story is part of the Solving Sacramento journalism collaborative. Solving Sacramento is supported by funding from the James Irvine Foundation and James B. McClatchy Foundation. Our partners include California Groundbreakers, Capital Public Radio, Outword, Russian America Media, Sacramento Business Journal, Sacramento News & Review, Sacramento Observer and Univision 19.