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Rohnert Park council agrees to seek state funding for 56-unit homeless project

Rohnert Park City Council members unanimously agreed Tuesday to apply for state and federal funding to build a modular housing project that could house 56 city residents who are now experiencing homelessness.

The issue that elicited emotional and sometimes angry reactions two weeks ago drew no opposition Tuesday, after the council rejected one proposed site in a residential area near the old Gold Ridge school.

City Manager Darrin Jenkins recommended — and the three council members in attendance agreed — that modular interim housing at 751 Rohnert Park Expressway west, on city property at the western end of Rohnert Park Expressway across from Rancho Verde Mobile Home Park, is the preferred site.

The proposal would include 56 units, a community garden, restrooms, showers, laundry facilities, support service space, a pet area and a dining area. It would not include any public facilities or a meal distribution site.

RohnertParkInterimHousingProposal.pdf

Jenkins laid out a stark choice for city leaders, contrasting multiple photos of existing homeless encampments, stacks of hypodermic needles found there, piles of trash and creek pollution with photos from a successful interim housing project at Los Guilicos that showed clean, tidy, safe and healthy living quarters.

“We can have this … or this,” he said repeatedly, showing council members the reality of what’s happening in Rohnert Park and what could happen with city facilities.

“This is our town and it’s being destroyed,” he said. “And we have to do something… There is hope.”

“This is where people are sleeping now,” Jenkins said, showing a photo of an unkempt camp site strewn with trash. “This is under a bridge on one of our creeks.

“There is an alternative,” he said, showing an image of a tidy bedroom in a tiny house in a planned interim housing project. “This is what where recommend people sleep, at least 56 of them.

Mayor Gerard Giudice, Vice Mayor Jackie Elward and Councilman Willy Linares agreed the city should act now to try to win as much as $17 million in state Project Homekey funding for the project. Council members Susan Hollingsworth Adams and Pam Stafford were absent.

“Project Homekey is a once in a generation opportunity,” Giudice said. “We have to seize it. This is the only path forward. All of the other paths are blocked by either legal or financial constraints.”

Some residents have said they miss the days when the police would clear out homeless encampments and force residents to move elsewhere. But a court ruling in 2018 forbade that unless cities can offer housing to them.

Rohnert Park, the county’s third-largest city, has no homeless shelter and about 250 residents experiencing homelessness. In polling over the last six years, residents have rated homelessness as a more and more important issue in the city.

“With encampments and the federal court ruling, you really have to have a place (to house them). We are absolutely toothless to enforce anti-camping measures in Rohnert Park,” he said.

The funding would come from $1.45 billion in state and federal funds the state announced this month it has dedicated to housing issues.

That money will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis for eligible projects, so Jenkins asked for approval to move forward on the plans quickly.

Jenkins had said the city was considering applying for two projects, one for permanent housing at a local hotel and one for interim housing on city property. But he said Tuesday buying hotels with this round of funding appeared unlikely.

The Homekey money could fund a 60-unit project with modular structures that the state would subsidize for three years. Beyond that, the city would need to pursue rents, housing vouchers, philanthropy, Measure O local tax funds and state, federal and other funding sources.

Operating costs could be about $1 million a year for the city, although the city has identified several potential funding avenues, Jenkins said.

The proposed site is on a narrow stretch of city property west of FoodMaxx grocery store on the western edge of city across from Rancho Verde Mobile Home Park.

The state will begin considering applications next month.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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