Repairs stave off evictions at Santa Rosa’s Gold Coin Motel eyed for housing project
Most of those living at the Gold Coin Motel in Santa Rosa have been there for years, including several tenants who have stayed for decades.
For Tammy Bishop and her husband, Robert Fuller, the stay at the low-budget inn with roughly 50 rooms has lasted for 20 years.
Their room is opposite a popular Thai restaurant, which is owned and operated by the same family that owns the Mendocino Avenue hotel property. Bishop and Fuller, who also have worked as caretakers and cleaners at the Gold Coin, raised two sons at the motel near Steele Lane Elementary School - a neighborhood close to health care providers and next door to a Safeway.
Four weeks at the Gold Coin can run nearly $2,000, but for most of their time there, Bishop and Fuller have worked in exchange for rent. With seven or eight other long-term residents, they’ve built their own little community at the Gold Coin.
“Everybody’s like family,” Bishop said. “It’s not a bunch of stragglers that’s off the streets. We’ve been here for years, and we stick together.”
But this summer, a neighbor complained about the state of the property, spurring a city inspection that found widespread disrepair and squalid conditions. The motel’s rooms were so dilapidated, city officials said, that they deemed the Gold Coin uninhabitable. Residents were told they had a month to find new homes, leaving those like Bishop and Fuller fearing they’d be kicked to the curb as of this past Thursday.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society of Sonoma County, which is buying the Gold Coin but won’t take ownership until November, arranged for basic maintenance on the site’s occupied units earlier this month. The last-minute scramble has averted evictions for the time being. A city memo delivered to the property Tuesday, two days before the city’s deadline, informed residents that the order to leave had been indefinitely postponed.
St. Vincent, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit, aims to turn the property into permanent housing with services for formerly homeless and low-income residents. The reinvention is modeled on the Palms Inn on Santa Rosa Avenue, a former motel that now houses more than 100 ? formerly homeless people, including veterans, and provides case management services for occupants. The philosophy underpinning both projects is that homeless people first and foremost need a permanent, stable place to live, allowing them to then hold down a job, receive care for physical and mental health and address other issues that may be pushing them onto the streets.
The most recent estimate of Sonoma County’s homeless population ?put the total at nearly 3,000 individuals, most of whom live in Santa Rosa. The local rate of unsheltered homelessness - people living on sidewalks in cars, parks or abandoned buildings - in the city is among the highest nationwide, trailing only San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to a recent federal report.
Santa Rosa officials said the dilapidated state of the Gold Coin presented them with a dilemma. They couldn’t ignore the substandard living conditions found at the hotel, but also didn’t want to order evictions that could have left even more local residents homeless.
City Councilwoman Victoria Fleming, whose north Santa Rosa district includes the Gold Coin, compared the situation with the Oakland warehouse known as the Ghost Ship, a living quarters and performance venue that went up in flames in late 2016, killing 36 people. Victims’ relatives have alleged that Oakland failed to inspect the building to formally flag its interior labyrinth as a fire hazard.
“The reason why we’re cautious is we don’t want a Ghost Ship situation,” Fleming said. “We also don’t want to create any more homelessness in the city of Santa Rosa wherever possible.”
Residents and city officials said the property’s owner let many rooms fade into disrepair. For example, one unit with a hole in the roof has been unlivable because of substantial fire and roof damage.
Fuller said he still does maintenance at the site, long a magnet for police and emergency calls. The job has brought him face to face with the stark reality of life on the margins, including the bodies of a few tenants, who he understood to have died from overdoses or from old age, alone and unattended.
He said the owners’ willingness to keep up the property has waned of late. “The older they got, they kind of let it go,” he said.
‘Lack of maintenance’
Nahn Phetphadoung, who manages the Jhanthong Banbua restaurant and helps oversee the Gold Coin, said the property owner had been looking to sell the property and was in talks with another potential buyer besides St. Vincent.