Can LA’s Aging Motels Help Solve the City’s Homelessness Crisis?

All over Los Angeles there are many aging and underused motels and hotels, some dating back to the glory days of Route 66. A new state program called Project Homekey is looking to buy these properties and convert them quickly into housing. long term for the homeless population of LA. . The thinking is this: why build from scratch when the buildings are already there?

What is Project Homekey?

Shortly after the start of the COVID pandemic, the state of California launched a program called Project Roomkey to temporarily house homeless people in vacant motels and hotels to protect them from infection. It quickly evolved into Project Homekey. Using $ 846 million in federal and state grants and philanthropic money, local governments, in cooperation with low-income housing developers, buy vacant motels, hotels and apartment buildings, renovate them and turn properties into long-term housing for people living on the streets.

How big is Project Homekey?

Across the state, 94 properties from the Homekey Project have been released from escrow, with the goal of turning them into 6,000 housing units with support services, like addiction counseling and anger management programs. About a third of these projects are in the Los Angeles area. California Governor Gavin Newsom would like to see the program expand. He offered to spend an additional $ 7 billion on property acquisition, making Homekey a centerpiece in the fight against homelessness.

What are the advantages of Project Homekey?

Homeless housing developers say Project Homekey saves time and money by creating homeless housing. Building social housing from scratch in a city like Los Angeles can cost more than half a million dollars a unit and take years to complete due to sky-high real estate costs, expenditure on materials and labor. work, and the hassle of assembling finance contracts.

Since Project Homekey properties already exist and typically only need a few minor renovations before people move in, the costs and time to complete homeless housing projects are cut by over $ 50. %.

Governor Newsom said statewide that the average unit cost of Homekey housing is expected to be around $ 147,000.

What do the homeless say?

Veronica Marmion has just moved into a Project Homekey site in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, operated by People Concern. She lives in a Spartan room with her pet and says the change has been huge.

“When you are homeless, you become very humble,” says Marmion. “So now that I’m here, I appreciate everything they do. The room has a bed… I can take a shower. The little things that people probably take for granted are very important to us. “

On a Project Homekey site in El Sereno, Martha Fuentes, who is 65 and homeless for 10 years, you can see where she lived from her window.

“My house was that car parked in the parking lot,” says Fuentes. “This is where I lived, before that in the street. This is my castle, my home, my paradise. This piece represents the world to me.

Homeless for 10 years, Martha Fuentes sits in her renovated Project Homekey room in Los Angeles’ El Sereno neighborhood. Photo by Saul Gonzalez.

This Super 8 motel in El Sereno is part of the Homekey project. This is where Martha Fuentes lives. Photo by Saul Gonzalez.

What could possibly go wrong with Homekey?

While excited about its potential, many homeless service providers say future funding needs to be supported for the support services that need to be provided as well. If these are not maintained, people could end up on the streets. There are also concerns that when people eventually leave Homekey’s properties, other affordable housing options will become available to them.

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