Motel Conversions for Homeless Housing

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October 1, 2017 · Posted in Commentary 

1057 Vine Street, Hollywood motel conversion to homless housing by Step Up on Vine.

Leslie Evans

There are plenty of aging motels, some abandoned and others barely scraping by. City governments, nonprofits, current owners, and developers are discovering that one promising possibility is to convert them to efficiency units for the homeless, especially homeless veterans.

Los Angeles in May 2017 approved a plan to create 500 apartments for homeless vets. 400 of the units are to be created by a partnership between the Shangri-La Construction company and the Step Up on Second nonprofit homeless support agency. The other 100 will be developed at one North Hollywood motel by the Volunteers of America.

In ambitious cases, the whole interior of a motel is gutted and new units built within the old framework. For quicker conversions, since motel rooms already have their own bathroom and plumbing, a one-piece kitchenette is added. These typically include a stove top, oven, sink, and small refrigerator.

Advantage of motels, in addition to the many small rooms, is their location on busy streets and their large parking lots.

The LA Housing Authority will provide Section 8 vouchers good for 15 years, funded by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Additional funding will come from Proposition 41, which authorized $600 million in bonds for poor and homeless veterans.

Expanding on this ambitious project, the City Planning Department on September 6 released a draft of an Interim Motel Conversion Ordinance. If approved by the City Council, this would streamline approvals for remodeling existing motels for use as transitional, or long-term supportive, housing for the homeless. Such conversions would be eligible for funding from the sales tax increase under Measure H passed this spring.

If used as transitional housing, there would be a 24 month tenancy limit. Conversions must retain the same number of units as the original building and cannot increase the building’s height or footprint. The central clause of the ordinance provides:

“Any existing buildings which are not in conformance with the current zoning – including density, parking, and use regulations – would be allowed to be used for this purpose without needing additional planning entitlements.”

The draft ordinance must go through two public hearings in late September, then go to the City Planning Commission, probably in late November. After that there will be meetings of concerned City Council committees, a full vote by the City Council, and then a review by the City Attorney.

Motel Conversions for the Homeless in Other Cities

Santa Ana, Orange County. Community Development Partners is in process of creating 72 units of homeless permanent supportive housing in a conversion of the Guest House motel. The Santa Ana City Council has awarded the project $998,496 in annual rental vouchers on a 15 year contract. Community Development Partners operates 16 locations of low-income or homeless housing in California, Arizona, Oregon, and Nevada. They are aiming to reach 1,000 homeless housed by the end of 2017.

Santa Rosa. This northern California town hosts the first motel conversion for the homeless in Sonoma County. The Palms Inn now houses 104 formerly homeless and homeless veterans. The county aims to build 2,000 units of homeless housing in the next decade. The project was backed by the county Board of Supervisors. Of the residents, 60 are veterans and 44 other homeless. The project is run jointly by Catholic Charities and the Veterans Administration.

San Diego. A Motel 6 in the Mission Valley section of town is being converted into 84 apartments for homeless veterans. Ted Miyahara, a finance official for the city’s Housing Commission, told the San Diego Union, “We do think there’s an opportunity to replicate this in other places throughout the city. I think this has caught the attention of other developers and they are looking at it as a model.” The project is by the Affirmed Housing company, which owns the land.

However, a Super 8 motel near the coast slated for conversion to homeless housing is facing bitter opposition from nearby residents and from the Coastal Commission.

Also in San Diego, and organization called Father Joe’s Villages has announced plans to acquire some 17 hotels and motels to convert them to 1,240 permanent supportive housing units. This is part of a $531 million plan to produce 2,000 new units.

San Jose. In January, the San Jose City Council approved a plan by Abode Services to take over the Santa Clara Inn, a 56-unit motel, and convert 27 of the units to homeless permanent supportive housing. This is the second motel conversion for the homeless approved in that city, which has 4,063 homeless people.

Temple City, San Gabriel Valley. Here there was a major loss when Mercy Housing in June withdrew its application to buy the Golden Motel and convert it to permanent supportive housing for veterans. Technically the motel, at 6353 Rosemead Blvd, San Gabriel, is in unincorporated county property just outside Temple City’s borders, but angry citizens vehemently opposed the plan. In the end, with approvals delayed, Mercy Housing was unable to match two other offers for the property. It is not clear to what degree the opposition to the project contributed to its failure.


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