Covid has forced swift action on homelessness. Hopefully, some solutions will have staying power.
The Covid-19 crisis has laid bare many other crises that were visible before the pandemic, if less glaringly. From flawed sick leave policies in the workplace to public trust in science, long-standing challenges have been constantly on display.
Overcrowded housing and homelessness are not new issues but during the pandemic, it’s been impossible for decision-makers to look away from the public health crisis created by our housing shortage. When you’re supposed to isolate yourself but have nowhere to isolate, how can you stop the spread of Covid-19?
Project Homekey is part of the state’s $600 million answer to this crisis, with funds used to purchase hotels, vacant apartment buildings or other properties, then rehab those buildings and convert them into housing for Californians who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
“We are moving now with a sense of real urgency that we have not had in the past,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a press conference today, announcing the fourth round of Project Homekey funding, $147 million to 12 applicants to support a total of 1,109 units.
This round of funding includes the city of Salinas, which has been awarded $9.2 million to acquire a motel to convert into housing. For $12 million, the city plans to acquire the Good Nite Inn on Work Street, and within 30 days will make 85 units of interim housing available; in its second year, the building will be used for 101 units of permanent supportive housing. (There are also two manager units set aside.)
“It’s huge,” says Megan Hunter, the city’s community development director. “This is a huge, huge win for the city.” As a point of comparison, she looks at Moongate Plaza—another success story—that took years to put together and houses about 59 people. The city submitted its Project Homekey application for Good Nite Inn on Aug. 13, the state announced the funding award on Oct. 9, and on Tuesday, Oct. 13, Salinas City Council is expected to authorize the agreements needed to proceed.
“This project we put together in no time,” Hunter says. That goes back to the governor’s remarks about the real urgency of the crisis, even though for most of the 100-plus people who will eventually live in these units, the crisis isn’t new.
About 120 to 150 people are lodged in Salinas thanks to the state’s Project Roomkey program—which funds motel and hotel stays for people who need to isolate during the pandemic but don’t have the space to do so—and about 80 of them are Salinas residents. When Project Roomkey ends, Hunter says, those people might otherwise find themselves on the streets.
Part of today’s announcement was also that $45 million in philanthropic contributions (from Kaiser Permanente and Blue Shield of California) have been committed to support operating costs, helping with the necessary wraparound services—things like case management, substance abuse counseling, job training—that are essential to making this new housing stock really work to keep people housed long term.
That’s the kind of funding and support that’s crucial to success. The city is partnering with Sangri-La Construction to remodel the motel rooms into residences, and Step Up on Second, Inc., will handle operations. Hunter says Salinas will likely seek philanthropic support as well to support ongoing operations.
Besides helping the people who will live there, she hopes it helps show the public a constructive blueprint for developing similar housing elsewhere. “I fundamentally believe it can be integrated into any neighborhood and be an asset,” Hunter says.
When it feels like we’re stuck in crisis mode, blueprints for success are more necessary than ever.
-Sara Rubin, editor, firstname.lastname@example.org