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The county joins the city of San Diego’s project to buy hotels to house the homeless. “It’s silly to leave money on the table.”

A divided county board of supervisors agreed on Tuesday to authorize up to $32 million in loans for the city of San Diego’s potential purchase of four residential properties that could be used to house more than 300 homeless people.

The city’s Housing Commission plans to buy the properties with money from the state’s Project Homekey program, and the purchases are contingent on receiving the grants. The Homekey Project’s latest funding round is providing $736 million in competitive grants statewide, including $34 million earmarked for San Diego, which is also eligible to apply for a share of the total funds.

Construction of any housing with Homekey Project funds must be completed within 12 months of receiving the money, and units must be fully occupied within 15 months. The Housing Commission has unanimously backed the purchases as a way to quickly find permanent housing for the homeless at a much cheaper cost than building new units.

The majority of the board said the purchases were worth pursuing, with supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer saying it would be “foolish to leave money on the table”.

Supervisor Jim Desmond cast the only opposing vote and told the meeting that he disagreed with the Housing First approach, which does not require residents to undergo drug treatment or mental health issues.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Desmond also said the cost of properties was too high.

“Today’s legislation fails to address the root causes of homelessness and lacks the necessary accountability for taxpayer funds,” he said. “Spending more than 153 million taxpayer dollars at $478,000 per unit is not the solution. »

Properties under consideration include three hotels and an apartment building.

One of the hotels is a 62-unit Ramada Inn on Midway Drive, which the Housing Commission agreed to sue at its May 12 meeting when it unanimously agreed to seek $18 million in funding. to the Homekey project. The estimated purchase price would be $11.6 million, or about $182,000 per unit, but adding kitchenettes and other upgrades would raise the overall cost to $29.5 million, or $469,000. per unit.

The city is also submitting a joint request for $4 million with Wakeland Housing and Development Corp. to purchase a vacant 13-unit building in Ocean Beach. Buying the building would cost $4.5 million, but rehabilitation expenses would increase the cost to $6.8 million, bringing the unit cost to $525,000.

The other two properties are a 107-unit Extended Stay America hotel on Murphy Canyon Road for $40.7 million and a 140-unit Extended Stay America hotel on Mission Valley Road for $52 million.

In total, the city is requesting $88.7 million in Homekey Project funds and would contribute $32.2 million for purchases.

The Housing Commission began investigating the purchase of the Ramada Inn last year and has already performed due diligence on the property, which included reviewing preliminary title reports, obtaining appraisals, completing a market survey and physical inspection of the property.

Due diligence is still underway on the other properties, and the Housing Commission is expected to apply for funds for the Homekey project in the coming months if the properties are found to be in good condition and the appraisals and other factors are favourable.

With Tuesday’s action, the board of supervisors agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the city to authorize up to $32 million in combined funds from the American Rescue Plan Act and the Behavioral Health Impact Fund. The action also authorized the publication of competitive tenders for behavioral health support services for the projects.

The county would provide up to $4.6 million annually for at least five years for tenant support services, including outreach, case management and clinical case management for people who have experienced the chronically homeless and have behavioral health issues. The Housing Commission will provide 320 housing vouchers for all units, valued at $68 million.

Council Chair Nora Vargas said the project is an example of successful partnership and meets a top priority in the county.

“What’s really important to us about this is creating permanent affordable housing, and I think that’s important to help our most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Desmond said he wouldn’t support the purchases because they don’t require tenants to commit to alcohol and drug treatment.

“As a county entity, I think we really should be focusing our money on treatment and services, not on ratepayer hotels as homeless accommodations that don’t require treatment,” a- he declared. “Any effort to reduce homelessness must require treatment and care.”

When asked to clarify whether he actually meant that every tenant should be required to undergo treatment, a representative from Desmond’s office said the rule would not apply to people who were homeless solely for economic reasons. or because they were survivors of domestic violence. His office also cited a statistic from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that more than 80% of chronically homeless people struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

Luke Bergmann, director of behavioral health services for the county, told the meeting that all tenants of the properties would be screened and provided with all necessary care. He said research has shown that the Housing First approach gets people into treatment with positive results.

“The idea behind the Homekey initiative is not to ignore the importance or consequence of behavioral health issues,” he said. “It’s about providing a space that maximizes the likelihood that people will actually engage in care and then succeed.”

A representative for San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria spoke in favor of the property purchases, but two Republican mayors from other cities issued statements ahead of the meeting in opposition.

“I believe this initiative lacks the necessary measures to address the root causes of homelessness and will not effectively address the current crisis in our community,” said El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells. “Without the political will to confront the reality that homelessness stems from substance abuse rather than inadequate housing, our efforts to overcome this predicament will be in vain.

“I strongly believe that providing housing alone, without addressing underlying issues such as sobriety, addictions and mental health, does not present a complete solution to homelessness,” he said.

Coronado Mayor Richard Bailey also said he opposed the purchases.

“This initiative, touted as a solution to homelessness, is deeply flawed and fails to address the fundamental issues that perpetuate this crisis,” he said. “California politicians continue to repeat the failures of the Housing First decade. At the same time, more and more people are tragically finding themselves on the streets. San Diegans should reject ineffective approaches and demand solutions that address the underlying causes of homelessness in our community.

California Daily Newspapers

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