Could a bunch of dilapidated SoCal motels become a bastion of new housing for the homeless?

Through the initiative, called Homekey, the state distributes funds to local governments and nonprofit developers to buy aging motels and other commercial properties and turn them into housing units for the homeless. Since July 2020, the project has spurred the creation of about 6,000 affordable housing units statewide, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.

In the coming fiscal year, the Newsom administration said it wanted to spend nearly $ 3 billion to create homes for some 14,000 homeless people, which would be the biggest investment in new housing for homeless people in California history.

Jamboree Housing Corporation, a nonprofit developer in Orange County, recently received $ 26 million in Homekey funds to buy two motels along Beach Boulevard and turn them into permanent long-term housing for the homeless, with on-site advisory and security services.

Michael Massie, the group’s director of housing development, says the large number of aging motels in Orange County offer huge opportunities for new housing development.

He says motels are already serving as a short-term type of housing for homeless people, but conditions are often squalid and dangerous.

A boarded up motel on Beach Boulevard in Orange County. (Saul Gonzalez / KQED)

“We know this is often housing of last resort,” said Massie. “So when people can’t put everything together to enter the housing market, they use motels as a place to live. “

Hoping to secure additional funds through another round of Homekey funding, Jamboree Housing is already planning to buy 10 more distressed properties in the area, including many motels, and turn them into housing for the homeless. lodgings.

Massie says cities are increasingly seeing Homekey both as a way to tackle homelessness and improve it.

“We get phone calls and the cities call us and ask us, ‘How did you do that? How did you do this? We also have these motels, ”said Massie.

Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, whose city has many aging motel properties, is eager to join us.

The city has just renovated such an old motel – a project called Buena Esperanza, which predates Homekey – where 70 housing units will soon be available for the homeless.

Small one-room apartment with bed, refrigerator, chest of drawers and table.
One of the rehabilitated homes in Buena Esperanza, a former Anaheim motel that will soon be available for homeless people. (Saul Gonzalez / KQED)

Sidhu says Anaheim can do a lot more of these conversions with state funding.

“I’m going to do as much as I can if the funding is available to get these people off the streets and clean up the neighborhood,” he said.

For Marleta, these plans cannot come soon enough. She urges local and state officials to act quickly and stick to ambitious plans, as the needs are enormous.

“I mean, I know it’s probably more complicated than that,” she said. “But it’s hard here. They have to clean it up, and the first thing they have to do is give people a place to live.

This story was a collaboration between KQED and KCRW in Santa Monica.