San Jose Mercury News, Sept. 28, 2020
By Marisa Kendall
Governor wants $200 million more for Project Homekey
As Project Homekey funds begin to dry up, Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking an extra $200 million to help more cities and counties convert property into homeless housing.
If approved by the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee, the request would increase the innovative program’s buying power by a third, allowing it to fund 20 more projects currently on a waitlist. So far, Project Homekey has allocated $449.9 million of its $600 million budget, funding 3,351 new housing units. Newsom announced 19 new projects — including one in Alameda County — on Monday.
“Not only is Homekey unprecedented in providing capital to house people experiencing homelessness, but we are moving with unprecedented speed,” Newsom wrote in a news release. “Most of these projects will be ready to house people very soon after the acquisitions are complete, providing immediate help to our most vulnerable residents.”
Among the $137 million awarded in the third round of funding Monday, nearly $14.5 million went to Alameda County to purchase a Comfort Inn in Oakland and turn it into permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless residents.
The 104-room hotel has been operating since March as an isolation and quarantine site for COVID-19 patients who have nowhere else to go. But recently, demand for that service has dwindled. Lately, the county’s two quarantine hotels have been no more than 30% full, said Kerry Abbott, director of Alameda County’s Office of Homeless Care and Coordination. As the Comfort Inn transitions to long-term housing, COVID patients will move to the hotel next door.
“We’re really excited about it,” Abbott said about turning the hotel into long-term housing. “It’s an amazing opportunity because the price is very reasonable. So the amount that we’re able to acquire the site for ends up being under $150,000 per room … Supportive housing typically costs three times that or more.”
Newsom launched Project Homekey earlier this year as a way to provide long-term housing for homeless residents who had been moved off the street and into temporary hotel rooms and other shelters during the coronavirus pandemic.
But it quickly became apparent that $600 million wouldn’t be nearly enough to fund all the applications that came flooding in from throughout the state. Project Homekey received 138 applications requesting nearly $1.06 billion.
Alameda County submitted four applications in all, and just one has been approved so far. Another is on the governor’s waitlist, and could be funded if the Newsom gets his extra $200 million.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Abbott said.
Projects in the five-county Bay Area have won more than $150 million. Local buildings that will be turned into homeless housing with Homekey funds include a college dormitory in Oakland, and hotels and motels in Milpitas, San Jose, Pittsburg and San Francisco. The funds also will go toward a modular home development in Mountain View.
Additional awards announced Monday include nearly $4.3 million to the city of Stockton to buy and renovate a 39-unit motel and turn it into permanent housing. The Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency won almost $12.5 million to convert a hotel into interim housing for households that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, and have been impacted by COVID-19. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles won $48.5 million for five projects totalling 269 units, and funds also went to Long Beach, Scotts Valley, and Santa Barbara, Sutter, Humboldt, Los Angeles, Tulare, Tehama, Del Norte, Lake and Mariposa counties.