Construction is underway to convert a Motel 6 in Costa Mesa into 87 homes for veterans, low income seniors and people at risk of becoming homeless – or are already living on the streets.
It’s part of a statewide program conceived during the height of the pandemic to help get homeless people and struggling residents into stable housing.
Costa Mesa Mayor John Stephens said in a Wednesday phone interview that the conversion will help solve homelessness in the city and will provide onsite veteran services as well as have security on the property.
“The idea is to create permanent homes, for people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless because of their circumstance,” he said.
Stephens also said the motel conversion will eliminate a large amount of nuisance calls at the site.
Community Development Partners are the developers behind the project to transform the motel into permanent housing and Mercy House will provide onsite supportive services.
Larry Haynes, CEO of Mercy House, said in a Friday interview that there’s a huge housing supply and demand imbalance.
“Homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed, if not for compassionate reasons but for our own collective self interest. It’s in the interest of business, it’s in the interest of reducing costs of our social services to get people into housing,” he said.
“The ultimate answer to addressing and ending homelessness, is housing.”
The conversion is part of Project Homekey — a state grant-funded program to buy motels and turn them into permanent homes for homeless people with onsite supportive services like mental health and medical services.
In November of 2021, Costa Mesa City Council members decided to apply for the program and committed $3.5 million in federal COVID bailout money to partner with the County of Orange, developers and service providers to transform two motels into affordable housing.
“The Homekey Program provides an opportunity for Orange County to enhance and continue developing affordable housing for the target population,” Molly Nichelson, a county spokeswoman, said in a Friday email.
Stephens said that the Mesa Inn, the second motel, did not end up receiving state funding for a transformation and the city redirected all the money towards the Motel 6 on Newport Boulevard.
The conversion comes following increased pressure from State officials to increase California’s housing stock — pressure that the neighboring city of Huntington Beach is fighting against, with officials there saying the lofty housing goals are unrealistic and unfair.
As part of their state-mandated goals, Costa Mesa has to zone for a total of 11,760 new homes — of which nearly 3,000 have to be for very low income households.
Last month, the county’s first homeless death review committee released its inaugural report on homeless people deaths in 2021 that showed deaths of people living on the street have been on the rise for the last decade.
The report shows that out of the 395 homeless people who died in OC in 2021, 18 of them died in Costa Mesa.
[Read: Does Orange County Need Another Homeless Survey? Report Shows Increase in Deaths]
The County’s 2022 point in time count shows that there were 208 homeless people in Costa Mesa last year and 150 of those people were unsheltered.
The first phase of the Motel 6 conversion, focused on providing 30 homes to formerly homeless veterans and 10 for people at risk of homelessness, is underway and expected to be completed by the end of 2023.
The second phase is expected to start in 2024 and is intended to construct 47 homes for low income seniors.
Motels Being Turned Into Homes Across Orange County
Other cities like Anaheim and Stanton have also been looking at motels as opportunities to house people experiencing homelessness.
Even with the motel conversions, Orange County officials are far behind on their housing goals.
So far, the county has finished only about 17% of its permanent supportive housing goal, according to the latest data in November from the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, the joint city-county agency that coordinates funding for the projects.
And the conversion of the Tahiti Motel in Stanton last year left some of the people living there waiting to be matched with housing, worrying they would be back on the streets.
[Read: Homeless People Living at Two Stanton Motels Could Soon Be Back on the Streets]
Brooke Weitzman, an attorney for the Elder Law and Disability Rights Center who advocates for homeless people, said in a Wednesday phone interview most of the people at the Tahiti were matched with housing.
But a small group of residents, she said, did not qualify for a subsidized housing program and were pointed to a shelter. Others who did qualify were relocated to other motels while they wait to be matched with a permanent home.
Nichelson didn’t respond to a question regarding what happened to people living at Tahiti before the conversion.
Kyle Paine, president of Community Development Partners, said there were three people living at the Motel 6 and they were all relocated to other housing.
Weitzman said Homekey is helping address the need for homes.
“The increasing number every month of people dying in the streets of Orange County is inadequate housing,” Weitzman said.
“We’re seeing more and more with this kind of creative construction that it is often quicker to convert an existing building that’s being underutilized and have units available up now than to start from scratch.”
She adds that it is imperative that cities and the county take advantage of funding programs like this to get ahead of the problem and keep people from living and dying on the streets.
Paine said there’s a critical need for housing especially for people like seniors and veterans.
“Housing in Orange County is extremely, extremely difficult. I think there’s really high rents and limited housing supply,” Paine said. “There’s still veterans who are not housed. That’s a huge need.”
“With seniors being typically on a fixed income and rents continuing to increase – that demand for housing at an affordable price is really critical.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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