OC plans massive conversion of motels to homeless housing with services

OC could see a massive expansion of a program to buy and convert motels into homeless housing with on-site support services.

Officials are bracing for a major infusion of new public funds for such conversions – known as Project Homekey – that would expand their existing efforts that converted two motels to Stanton.

Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to set aside $ 3.5 billion for Homekey projects in his new budget plan, county officials said Tuesday.

If OC gets a proportional amount, that’s almost $ 300 million – far more than the $ 21 million the county received last year to complete the two Stanton motel conversions.

County officials are now asking cities, motel owners and developers if they’re interested.

The effort received a warm response from county supervisors, who are the final decision-makers on whether to seek funding and convert motels.

“There are certainly plenty of opportunities to convert motels that are just magnets for crime into motels that can serve veterans, families in need, singles – so people can stabilize themselves and we can clean up our house. community, ”supervisor Katrina Foley told Tuesday’s supervisory board. Meet.

County officials have said they prefer to work with cities that support the motel buying effort and have the support of leaders in several OC cities.

“I had the chance to visit the Stanton Homekey projects, with the mayor [David] Shawver and Jamboree housing. And what they did there is truly amazing – not just for the residents who now have stable places to live, ”Foley said Tuesday.

“And they cleaned it up – it’s actually a lot nicer than before. But it also made a huge difference in that hallway on Beach Blvd., in terms of helping people get off the streets and find safety. [and housing], “she added.

“So it’s a really good model, and it really helps communities that want to turn some of the – what I’m just going to call dingy motels – into places where people can thrive and stabilize. “

Ultimately, it would be up to the county to claim the state grant money. In the past, county officials have asked for much less state homelessness grants than they are entitled to – but have asked for more in recent years after being publicly berated for it by a federal judge.

As part of OC’s existing $ 21 million Homekey projects, officials are converting the Stanton Inn and Tahiti Motel into 132 affordable studios that are expected to house 264 people starting in 2023.

The project is being developed by the nonprofit Jamboree Housing Corp., one of OC’s largest affordable housing developers.

A local nonprofit, American Family Housing, will provide on-site services including meals, medical assessments and services to improve people’s physical and mental health, according to Stanton officials.

Steven Johnson, a 62-year-old resident of the Stanton Inn since September 2020, said Homekey has changed his life.

“I have been homeless for so long,” he said. “They welcomed me and now they feed and protect me every day. I love him so much.”

Homekey has its origins in Project Toolbelt, the state-funded program that housed homeless people in motel rooms during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Authorities said no one was forced to live in Homekey motels.

“They are volunteers,” said Dylan Wright, who helps oversee motel purchases as Orange County’s director of community resources, at a county supervisors meeting last year.

“Do we just put people in supportive housing and then abandon them? Asked supervisor Andrew Do.

Wright said no.

“The peculiarity of supportive housing … is that it includes full services, so that there is full support from the person living in the unit,” he said.

Last year, OC supervisors were pressed by activists and lawyers to get the homeless to buy and convert motels. Supervisor Lisa Bartlett has publicly defended him at board meetings and said she has done the same in her capacity as senior county representative in California.

Bartlett told Voice of OC last summer that the county “absolutely” should pursue its share of the $ 900 million the state offered in its first round for motel purchases and services.

“I think it’s a good idea to convert Project Roomkey hotels into [permanent supportive housing], but only in cities where it is appropriate, ”Bartlett said.

“My goal is to help solve homelessness, not just spend money on short-term financial band-aids,” said Bartlett, who also served as president of the California State Association of Counties.

Despite this pressure, OC received far less than its proportional share of the state’s first Homekey money round.

The latest counts of the local homeless population – which are more than two years old – indicate that 7,000 to 10,000 people are homeless in Orange County.

Nick Gerda covers county government for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected]

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