Since 2020, with the COVID-19 outbreak and a deadly wildfire season that claimed more than 4,000 homes in Oregon alone, the homeless crisis on the west coast has worsened.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s annual homelessness report, Oregon ranked third in the country among states with the highest percentage of homeless people last year.
In response to the housing crisis, Oregon launched a statewide program that uses motels as shelters to meet the immediate needs of people who are homeless for a variety of reasons, from those in chronic need to shelter for those who have lost their homes to forest fires or the pandemic.
Maria Hernandez Lopez lives in a one-bedroom motel in Forest Grove, Oregon with her mother and three grandchildren. The motel has been operating as a COVID respite shelter for Latinx displaced people since May of this year.
“It was pretty hard to lose your job, then I had COVID, and one of my grandchildren had COVID,” Lopez said. “So that made it even more difficult to return to work. “
Lopez said she lost her construction job, and once she couldn’t afford the rent, she lost her house. Due to COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing warrants, traditional shelters were not an option for Lopez and his family.
“We couldn’t accommodate people in a gathering setting like we did before, ”said Maria Caballero Rubio, executive director of Centro Cultural, which serves the Latinx community in Washington County. “We had to find a way. “
Rubio’s group bought the Forest Grove Motel for $ 2.2 million with money from Project Turnkey, a statewide initiative that helps local organizations buy motels for the homeless .
“Hotels and motels were empty due to the pandemic and had no income,” said Nan Roman, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which published case studies on the hotel-to-housing model.
Oregon granted Project Turnkey nearly $ 75 million to acquire 19 underutilized motels in 13 counties. It joins California and Vermont, which launched similar statewide programs in 2020.
“This is really a big opportunity because we can add a lot of units to the inventory, affordably and quickly,” said Roman.
In seven months, Project Turnkey claims to have increased the capacity of Oregon shelters by 20%. The cost of purchasing a motel is approximately $ 87,000 per room, including small renovations. That’s less than half of what it costs to build new affordable housing.
“We are addressing immediate needs, but we are also helping communities better prepare for future disasters,” said Megan Loeb, Program Manager for Project Turnkey.
Most of the properties in the turnkey project will be converted into transitional or permanent housing, including services for different types of residents, from veterans to those recovering from drug addiction.