Orange County gets more funding to convert motels to homeless housing

Months after Orange County recorded the highest number of homeless deaths in a single year, the county received $6 million in funding to convert another Stanton motel into permanent, supportive housing. support.

The motel conversions are part of a statewide effort called Project Homekey, which involves the purchase and rehabilitation of hotels, motels, vacant apartments and other buildings to house people. homeless. The program was introduced by the state amid the pandemic as a way to transition homeless people into permanent housing from Project Roomkey, another pandemic-era state program that placed Californians homeless in hotel rooms.

During Homekey’s first round of funding, the county purchased the former Stanton Inn & Suites and Tahiti Motel to convert it into 132 permanent supportive housing units. For the past few weeks, the county has been waiting for news from the state about whether it will receive funding for a second round of Homekey proposals in Stanton, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.

The $6 million announced this week by the county will be used to convert the former 21-room Riviera Motel in Stanton. This follows the county recently receiving $17 million in funding to convert a former Quality Inn and Suites in Huntington Beach. The Costa Mesa project is still under study.

Newport Beach Police Homeless Liaison Officer Tony Yim speaks with homeless people staying at Balboa Pier.

(Raul Roa)

This second round of Homekey proposals was spearheaded by County Supervisor Katrina Foley, who said on the phone Wednesday morning that after being elected to the board of supervisors about a year ago, she toured the Stanton facility and decided to continue expanding the Homekey program. in the county. After calling a meeting with city leaders, four cities contacted the county to identify suitable properties that could be converted. This ultimately led to the Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, and Stanton proposals.

In addition to these cities, Anaheim is also awaiting a response from the state on whether it will receive Homekey Project funds to convert a 119-room motel. Foley said she was also working to identify a Homekey site in Santa Ana.

One of the incentives for cities to get involved in the program is to convert underused and crime-ridden properties into buildings that benefit the community. Foley called it a “win-win” for the community.

“This is a win because it’s about cleaning up a community area that residents have been concerned about for many years,” Foley said. “And it’s a win because the county gets permanent supportive housing…It’s also a win for people who are homeless or about to be homeless because we now have more units in the community where people can live.”

Stanton City Manager Jarad Hildenbrand said over the phone that the city is “very pleased” with the motel conversions.

“It really cleaned up the motels, and it’s everything we expected and more,” Hildenbrand said.

Victoriyah Ewing, 22, from Santa Ana, says she has been homeless for several years.

Victoriyah Ewing, 22, from Santa Ana, says she has been homeless for several years.

(Raul Roa)

Hildenbrand said the city specifically chose problematic motels for the program that attracted prostitution, drug trafficking and other crimes. He said the city is especially excited about the addition of the 21-unit motel because it will create a “campus feel” with nearby Homekey properties.

Hildenbrand said the city will also build a community building and outdoor space on vacant land next to the properties.

“This will really clean up Beach Boulevard for us and provide much-needed affordable housing in the area,” he said.

Homekey Project sites also include comprehensive support services focusing on counselling, health care, employment, and veterans’ issues.

Foley said Homekey’s goal is not transitional housing. Rather, it aims to help people stay “in a permanent and stabilized environment.” Using the program means a change in how Orange County addresses homelessness.

Over the past several years in Orange County, many cities have sought to address the spiraling homelessness crisis by opening emergency shelters. The effort came largely in response to a lawsuit filed by homeless advocates against a few cities after a tent city near Angel Stadium was removed. The decision in this lawsuit forced the county to consider the issue.

However, advocates argue that shelters are not a solution to homelessness, but a short-term solution to get people off the streets. Supportive housing is widely seen as the key to ending chronic homelessness. A 2017 study by UC Irvine, Jamboree Housing, and Orange County United Way found that it costs twice as much for someone to live on the streets than to house them. Advocates argued the county needs more permanent supportive housing to meet the goal of ending homelessness.

Two volunteers speak with homeless men during the Orange County Spot Count last January.

Volunteers speak to the homeless during the 2019 Spot Count.

(Raul Roa)

In 2018, the county committed to adding 2,700 permanent supportive housing units by June 2025. To date, 395 permanent supportive housing units have been completed toward this goal. 559 others are under construction and 350 other units are being financed. The public can follow the county’s progress online.

It is not yet known how many homeless people are in Orange County, as the last countywide homeless count – which counted 6,860 homeless people – was in 2019. The county recently held another one-time count, but county spokeswoman Molly Nichelson said this week that final numbers won’t be known until late May.

The Homekey project will provide housing for these homeless people living on the streets, as well as others in financial difficulty.

“Some people who might qualify and move into these units will have been in other housing, transitional housing, or maybe they’ve lived in a motel,” Foley said. “So I think we need to understand that there is a continuum of people experiencing homelessness, and the permanent supportive housing that motel conversions will likely provide for many people on the spectrum of that continuum.”

Hildenbrand thinks the Homekey project could benefit other cities. He also said Stanton hopes to secure more Homekey projects in the future.

“So it’s really come full circle with permanent supportive housing,” he said. “The idea is that they move from the streets to navigation centers and then eventually to permanent supportive housing. So the more permanent supportive housing units that we or the cities are putting online, that certainly helps everybody, and that helps free up space in shelters for the remaining homeless people who are still left in the street.

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.