Aging and rundown motels in cities like Stanton are being bought and transformed into housing for homeless people in Orange County — stemming from a pool of state money — in an effort to get more people off the streets.

“We have seven, eight or nine motels in the community that we would like to eventually acquire and convert into permanent supportive housing. As we know, it’s a priority in Sacramento to build more affordable housing. This is one way to do it,” Stanton City Manager Jarad Hildenbrand said in a Monday phone interview.

The motel conversions are a part of Project Homekey — state grant funded program to buy motels and turn them into permanent homes for homeless folks with onsite supportive services like mental health services.

Now motels in Costa Mesa may soon follow suit as city officials there eye two properties to transform into affordable housing in an effort to create more low income homes and help tackle homelessness.

The efforts also come as many OC cities rethink their approach on how to handle police calls on homeless people who are experiencing a mental health crisis, with some cities like Garden Grove and Huntington Beach contracting with Be Well OC to send mental health care workers to the calls, instead of police officers.

Hildenbrand said the process is not cheap, especially acquiring the motel.

But, he said, the state funding has really helped the city move forward with the transformations.

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During the first phase of the project, the County of Orange and Jamboree Housing — one of the largest affordable housing developers in OC — acquired two motels in Stanton which are still in the process of being converted into permanent supportive housing.

This includes $10 million from the state to convert the Stanton Inn and Suites, and $8 million for the Tahiti Motel on Beach Boulevard, according to a staff report.

[Read: OC Eyes Massive Conversion of Motels into Homeless Housing with Services]

Some of the Beach Boulevard motels being converted to homes were known for years to attract drugs and prostitution.

Now Jamboree and OC Supervisors are applying for the second round of Homekey funding to convert the Riviera Motel next to the Tahiti Motel on Beach Boulevard in Stanton into permanent housing as well. 

“​​Between the three projects here, we should have about 152 units,” Hildenbrand said.

At last week’s meeting, Stanton City Council members approved using $2.5 million in federal COVID bailout money, known as ARPA funds, to help acquire the Riviera Motel in partnership with the county and Jamboree — who are both applying for the Homekey grant to convert the motel.

“I am so thrilled about this project. The Riviera is one of our highest crime motels in Stanton and we’re removing that to create housing for people that really need it and I think it’s the biggest win-win we’ve done in a while,” said Councilwoman Carol Warren at the meeting.

The conversion will also help the city meet its state mandated housing goals — goals which some city officials in the county have pushed back on amid pressure from the state to build more homes.

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In neighboring Anaheim, city officials there are also applying for state motel conversion funding, eyeing the Kona Inn, a 26-room motel on Brookhurst Street and Lincoln Avenue, as well as Studio 6 — a 119-room motel on Harbor Boulevard, according to an email from city spokesman Mike Lyster.

The city will be submitting their applications for funding for both projects in January.

In August, the Buena Esperanza affordable housing project was opened in Anaheim after the conversion of an Econo Lodge Motel on La Palma Avenue.

The city is also looking to redevelop Beach Boulevard between Lincoln Avenue and Ball Road — a source of constant concern from West Anaheim residents.

Meanwhile, housing advocates have criticized city leaders across the county for what they describe as allowing the overproduction of expensive housing and the underproduction of low income units, which they say is fueling the homelessness crisis.

As part of their goals, Stanton has to zone for a total of 1,231 new homes in the next eight years — 82 of which have to be for extremely low income households.

The new housing created by the motel conversions would count towards those homes.

Stanton and Anaheim aren’t the only cities looking at motels to help address the need.

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Costa Mesa city council members last month decided to apply to the state’s Project Homekey program and commit $3.5 million in federal bailout money to collaborate with the county, developers and service providers to transform two motels in the city to housing for the homeless.

“We’re creating a pathway out of homelessness, we’re creating opportunities for people to have more homes to stay in — more affordable homes to stay in,” said Councilman Manuel Chavez at the Nov. 16 meeting. “It’s a great step in the right direction to being creative about housing, and seeing where we can find opportunities to make housing so that everyone has a place at the table.”

Councilman Don Harper was the only dissenting vote on the council.

“I don’t know the long term effects of these kinds of developments. They may be very positive, they may be negative. I don’t know,” Harper said at the meeting.

City staff anticipate the $3.5 million to help with the conversions will come from federal covid relief funds, according to a staff report.

Officials are looking at the Mesa Motel and a Motel 6 on Newport Boulevard to use for the project.

The Mesa Motel is a 46-room motel and would be eligible housing for homeless people and couples.

Services there are slated to be provided by the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit homeless resources group, and the motel conversion by CW Driver and HomeAid Orange County.

The Motel 6 is a 94-room motel and would be used to provide 40 housing units for at-risk or currently homeless people and 54 units for low-income seniors 62 and older.

Services would be provided by Mercy House, the city’s homeless shelter operator, and the conversion is slated to be done by Community Development Partners.

The two motel conversions would create 140 units of low income housing that would help the city meet their state-mandated housing goals. 

As part of their goals, Costa Mesa has to zone for a total of 11,760 new homes in the next eight years — of which nearly 3,000 have to be for very low income households. 

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Assistant City Manager Susan Price said at the meeting that there were 29 motels in the city and they have been relatively underutilized since the pandemic.

“However, the calls for service appear to be going up. And so between 2019 and 2021 our calls for service for police and fire response to motel locations in our city has gone up 70%,” she said.

Price used to be the county’s homeless resources director until she went to work for Costa Mesa at the beginning of last year.

Price said the city routinely receives calls from residents and motel owners alike reporting “evidence of narcotics and other nuisance activities.” 

However, she said the two motels targeted for conversions have been on the lower end of the nuisance calls.

Mayor John Stephens said at the meeting the motel conversions would help eliminate those nuisance calls.

County residents have identified housing and homelessness as one of the most important local issues, according to the 2020 Orange County Annual Survey conducted by Chapman University.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him @helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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