Open Doors

By Christmas, rooms at the Good Nite Inn will be converted into interim housing for the homeless or those at risk of homelessness, thanks to Project Homekey, a program funded by the state.

In a few short months, 101 people in Salinas who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness may be housed in a first-of-its-kind project for the region. The city will purchase an existing motel and convert guest rooms into apartments, while providing services for its residents as well.

Called Project Homekey, the money to fund the majority of effort will come from a $600 million state fund. On Oct. 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Salinas would receive $9.2 million to cover most of the purchase price of the Good Nite Inn on Work Street. On Oct. 13, Salinas City Council voted unanimously to proceed with the purchase and partner with homeless services provider Step Up on Second Inc. and Shangri-La Construction, which will partially finance the project, expected to cost a total of $12 million.

The city, as noted by Newsom, has about one-third of Monterey County’s total population, but 50 percent of the county’s homeless population.

Now the clock is ticking. City Community Development Director Megan Hunter says the rooms must be occupied within 30 days of the inn’s acquisition, and acquisition is expected by Nov. 11. The state grant will cover services – like addiction counseling and job training – for the first two years; after that, the county will assist.

Of the inn’s 103 units, 85 will be immediately converted into interim housing, while in the second year, 101 units will become permanent supportive housing. Two will be set aside for on-site managers.

“This is a huge, huge win for the city,” Hunter says. As a point of comparison, she references Moongate Plaza, which took years to put together and houses about 59 people. The city submitted its Project Homekey application for Good Nite Inn on Aug. 13.

Councilmember Scott Davis says he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the project, and that the city, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, needs creative solutions to help the homeless.

“This is what that project is. A creative and innovative solution that takes advantage of state funding that would be lost if not used by December,” Davis says. “It takes into account a housing-first philosophy, which is now considered best practice.”

While the vote was unanimous, not all were enthused. Councilmember Tony Villegas said, “I don’t want Salinas to become a magnet for homelessness. It goes against the Salinas plan of providing a safe and livable community.”

City Clerk Patti Barajas read into the record a letter submitted by attorney Matthew Ottone, a member of the adjacent Hampton Inn’s ownership group. While the group is generally supportive, he noted a lack of public transportation access and services.

“This is essentially relegating these residents to an industrial area,” he wrote. “When my family developed this business park over 40 years ago, the city requested that we place restrictions that would not allow the owners to use any of the parcels for residential use. Ironically it’s the city itself that is now ignoring this restriction.”

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