Ventura County Might Convert One or More Hotels into Permanent Housing for Homeless

Vagabond Inn in Oxnard is one of four Ventura County motels currently being leased under Project Roomkey to house the homeless during COVID-19.

Ventura County took a step this week toward converting one of its Project Roomkey motels into permanent supportive housing for homeless people. 

The county on Thursday released a Request for Qualifications calling for an affordable housing developer to assist in purchasing and converting of “one or more motel(s) to permanent supportive housing, with a focus on housing Project Roomkey clients.” 

Gov. Gavin Newsom launched Project Roomkey in March. The statewide initiative aims to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among the state’s vulnerable homeless population by providing shelter in motel rooms. In Ventura County, four motels have provided shelter for over 400 homeless people during the pandemic, prioritizing high-risk individuals who are over 65 or have existing health conditions. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is partnered with the state and will reimburse 75 percent of motel operations, but that funding is currently set to expire June 30. However, the recently approved state budget set aside $550 million to purchase motels in order to convert them into housing. The county is now looking for an affordable housing developer to help utilize some of this funding to purchase a motel.

“We have been working with a group of cities and housing partners for last couple months discussing options for exit plans for Project Roomkey, and one of the things we identified fairly early was the potential to purchase and convert a motel,” said Tracy McAulay, a management analyst for the county. 

“The state’s budget passed on Monday and we wanted to be as prepared as possible to take advantage of that funding when it become available. . . Part of our ultimate plan for Project Roomkey is that we definitely want to try to provide as much housing for Project Roomkey clients as we can,” she continued. 

The county currently leases four motels under Project Roomkey: a Motel 6 in Newbury Park, two Vagabond Inns in Ventura and Oxnard, and a Best Western in Ventura. 

One or more of these could be purchased and converted into permanent housing, but the county could also use state funding to purchase a motel that isn’t being used under Project Roomkey. Which motels are purchased will depend on a variety of factors. 

“It ultimately is a real estate transaction, and is dependent on a number of factors, including willingness to sell, the general location, and the ability to finance the site,” said McAulay. “We’re truly not going to make a decision until we have a developer on board and city involvement, which will be hopefully within the next month or so.”

The affordable housing developer would assist the county with the conversion of the motel and would also serve as the owner and manager of the site. Converting motels into permanent housing would help with the next step of Project Roomkey: finding a home for the most vulnerable members of the county’s homeless population. Half of Project Roomkey’s residents are chronically homeless.

“We’ve been working really hard with service providers and under the guidance of Public Health to work on transition plans for as many individuals as possible under Project Roomkey,” said Tara Carruth, program manager for the Ventura County Continuum of Care. “But we always know that alongside any temporary options, including Project Roomkey, we need more housing solutions, so this opportunity gives us a chance to create some of those housing opportunities for some of this vulnerable population.”

Currently, 310 people remain in the county’s Project Roomkey motels, and over 70 people have been “successfully discharged” into shelters or more permanent housing. Carruth calls Project Roomkey “a really great success.”

“I think having this highly vulnerable group in a safe shelter site has provided a lot of opportunities to make progress and engage people in the services and treatment that they need, and permanent housing for those groups is a real high priority for the county,” she said. 

Of the remaining residents, 45 percent are over the age of 62, 36 percent have a reported mental health disability, 54 percent have a reported chronic health condition and 57 percent have a reported physical health disability. 

Health conditions among the population that make them more high-risk for COVID-19 include chronic pulmonary and heart disease, immune-compromised conditions like diabetes, HIV/AIDs and pregnancy. 

Priority for who lives in the converted motels would depend on the requirements attached to the state funding, but some current motel residents are likely to be eligible and prioritized, according to Carruth. 

Source: VC Star article from June 19, 2020