A Plan for Escondido’s Crime Motels

Interfaith Community Services purchased this best value American motel on North Center City Parkway.

Some Escondido motels have become crime magnets, and the pandemic hasn’t helped. At a motel, police found there had been a 420% increase in calls for service over the past year.

Hoping to breathe new life into some of these properties, the city is moving forward with an ordinance allowing the conversion of hotels and motels into individual housing.

The ordinance would allow motels to be used permanently for residential use in commercial areas, which they say would lead to the revitalization of those areas.

ORS on 17th Street, Downtown San Diego

It’s unclear how many would qualify or want to participate, but Adam Finestone, acting director of community development, told city council he knew of interested hotel owners.

“It could be one, it could be all, it could be half of them.”

Some may accommodate the option. According to the city, the pandemic has spawned “devastating occupancy levels in 2020 and 2021,” and industry experts are predicting “an uncertain or bleak future for their continued operations post-pandemic.”

Under the order, existing hotels and motels in all zoning districts and those located in specific plans can be converted to single room, supportive housing, transitional housing, multi-family housing or a combination.

Interior ORS, San Diego

Unlike a studio or efficiency, single occupancy units are not required to have both a kitchen and a bathroom. They often have a shared facility for one or the other, which some Ordinance commentators have wished to see changed. The council therefore added a requirement for SROs to have both a kitchen and a bathroom, so that they have “all the amenities provided by one accommodation”.

The city says converting the motels would be cost effective because they are already built and require much less rehabilitation than other structures. This would accelerate the construction of affordable units to meet the city’s share of regional housing.

Escondido collects hotel taxes from 16 hotels and motels that have made payments over the past five years. Conversion applications would be subject to tax analysis to offset the cost of municipal services, whether the developer is non-profit or for-profit.

Currently, the city has a hotel conversion which it considers a success. Last year, Interfaith Community Services purchased a motel on North Center City Parkway and turned it into housing for the homeless.

“It has been converted into a residential care facility, not just housing,” Finestone said. Services provided by the operator have made a difference at the once troubled site, helping residents struggling with substance abuse issues, offering employment advice and more. Police calls for service there “have dropped dramatically”.

Where these services are not provided, problems persist. Police Chief Ed Varso told the council “we can have anywhere from 10 calls a month to over 100”.

Last year’s spike in calls was attributed to a wave of homeless vouchers from outside Escondido due to Covid, but ‘some properties have consistent patterns’ of narcotics and drug issues trafficking in human beings.

The city cannot use eminent domain to repossess problematic property, according to Housing Services Manager Karen Youel. “It must be a voluntary purchase.”

One way for the city to have more control over the operation of a property is to decide to go through Project Homekey, a state-funded program, and purchase the motel.

The city would be the applicant or could act as co-applicant and allow the developer to own the property. “Or we can continue to own it for the 55-year accessibility period,” she added.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how they[state]roll out the program. Many cities have had success with the idea that when someone lives on a site permanently, they treat it differently” than temporary shelter.

“This idea of ​​permanence allows people to treat their homes a little better.”