More than 100 homeless Oaklanders will move from temporary COVID-19 hotels and into permanent housing this holiday season, Mayor Libby Schaaf said Wednesday, announcing the opening of the city’s latest state-funded homeless housing project.
Oakland, in partnership with Bay Area Community Services, purchased 17 single-family homes that will provide long-term housing for people who are homeless and elderly or medically compromised, making them especially vulnerable to coronavirus. The project was funded by a $10 million Project Homekey grant Gov. Gavin Newsom awarded the city in September. People have started moving in, and the homes should be filled by the end of this year or early next year.
Schaaf called the project a “Christmas miracle.”
“This brings new meaning to the phrase home for the holidays,” she said. “Thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey, more than 100 formerly homeless vulnerable seniors and people struggling with other health issues are going to receive their forever homes.”
The funding is part of more than $800 million Newsom doled out through Project Homekey to help cities and counties buy hotels, apartments and other buildings and turn them into homeless housing.
It comes as a separate program, Project Roomkey, which temporarily sheltered homeless people at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 in hotels, is starting to wind down in Alameda County and throughout the state.
Each person moving into the new Oakland houses will have a private bedroom with a locking door, but will share the kitchen and other communal spaces with roommates. Residents, many of whom will be living on Social Security, will pay deeply reduced rents each month, and can continue living in the home as long as they wish. The city guarantees the properties’ rents will remain subsidized for 55 years.
Jamie Almanza, CEO of Bay Area Community Services, called the properties “permanent forever homes.”
Bay Area Community Services has used this model as homeless housing for years, and prior to Homekey operated 13 single-family homes in Oakland, Hayward, Pleasanton, Livermore and Vallejo. The organization hopes to purchase several more using $5 million the Crankstart Foundation contributed to the program.
Oakland — which has a population of more than 4,000 homeless residents — received about $38 million from the Homekey pot for four projects. One is the collection of single-family homes. Another is Clifton Hall — a 63-unit California College of the Arts dormitory in Rockridge, which the city bought and turned into housing. The top two floors are permanent housing for at least 42 seniors, the second floor is a 20-household family shelter, and the ground floor provides services and support for homeless families. The city planned to begin moving people in this week.
The governor’s office also allotted Roomkey funds so Oakland could buy the 22-unit Inn at Temescal hotel, and an 82-unit single-room-occupancy hotel at Franklin and 11th streets. The Inn at Temescal project is on track, but Oakland withdrew its application for the SRO hotel. Oakland officials told the state that the hotel owner had misrepresented the condition of the building, and as a result, the project would have been too expensive, according to Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the state’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency
Alameda County also won nearly $14.5 million to turn the 104-room Comfort Inn in Oakland into long-term homeless housing.
Officials are racing to get people into those projects as the county shuts down its Roomkey hotels. Two hotels are slated to close at the end of this month, two more are set to close at the end of January, and the last two will close at the end of February.
As they moved to shut down the hotels, counties had expressed fears that FEMA funding for the program would run out, leaving them on the hook for large bills. But last week, Newsom announced FEMA will continue reimbursing counties for Roomkey hotels through the end of the pandemic. Even so, Alameda County has given no indication that it intends to extend the hotels.
Schaaf on Wednesday reaffirmed the city’s commitment to preventing any Roomkey residents from ending up back on the street after their hotels close. She said she plans to join other California mayors in lobbying for more Project Homekey funding, to create more permanent homeless housing, in the next budget.
“We do not want to undo that help that we’ve been able to provide during this year,” she said.