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Santa Rosa City Council agrees to seek $19 million in state funds for two homeless housing projects

The Santa Rosa City Council has agreed to seek just over $19 million in state funds to help build two homeless housing projects already planned for the downtown area.

If approved, about $11.4 million would go toward a family shelter to be part of Caritas Village, a city block-sized affordable and homeless housing development under construction at 465 A St. in the historic St. Rose neighborhood.

The city is asking for another $7.6 million to convert the former Gold Coin Motel at 2400 Mendocino Ave. into permanent supportive housing for local homeless residents.

The money is being made available through Project Homekey, an unprecedented $3.5 billion statewide program that’s so far helped create 95 rooms for homeless people at three former hotels in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

On Tuesday, the City Council approved applying for the money from Homekey by a 5-0 vote. Councilwoman Victoria Fleming was absent, and Councilman Jack Tibbetts recused himself because he is executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of Sonoma County, which owns the former Gold Coin Motel and will operate it as homeless housing.

Tibbetts declined to comment on the specifics of the city’s Homekey applications — submitted in coordination with shelter operators — because of the conflict of interest.

But he made clear his support of Project Homekey, which county officials have estimated could help create 230 more units of homeless housing throughout the region.

“Without the state assistance, none of this could ever come from the local government,” Tibbetts said. “It’s hugely consequential.”

St. Vincent de Paul, which bought the dilapidated motel for $5.65 million in 2019, plans to complete the project in June of next year.

Santa Rosa’s other potential Homekey site at Caritas Village could include 192 shelter beds and 40 rooms for local homeless families. Catholic Charities of Santa Rosa, the nonprofit building the shelter, expects to apply for additional private and public funding. The site is set to open by the middle of next year.

“We’re still closing the financing gap, but this would be a very important piece of funding,” said Jennielynn Holmes, head of homeless services with Catholic Charities.

On Wednesday, the nonprofit announced it received $5 million from the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund to support ongoing services at the shelter.

Across the county, officials are in the process of applying for Homekey funds to create a total of eight permanent and interim housing sites in Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Healdsburg, Guerneville, the Sonoma Valley, and three in Santa Rosa.

But officials concede there’s no guarantee they will receive all of the millions they request in their applications, which are approved on a first-come, first-served basis.

Of the $1.45 billion currently available to cities, counties and tribal governments this year, the entire Bay Area, with the second largest homeless population after Los Angeles County, is set to receive $200 million. Local jurisdictions also will have the opportunity to apply for grants in another round of funding next year.

(Click on the markers below for more information about each site. Those in green represent sites that have received Homekey funding, while those in blue have applied for project funding.)

If approved, Homekey grants for the current funding round will be awarded on a rolling basis through May 2, 2022.

The state has already granted Sonoma County about $16 million through Homekey to help buy and renovate the 44-room Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa and the 31-room Sebastopol Inn.

The county quickly placed dozens of unhoused people at highest risk of COVID-19 complications at the hotels late last year, moves that riled some neighbors and nearby businesses. The plan is to convert the sites from emergency pandemic shelters to permanent housing in 2023.

The Kashia Band of Pomo Indians has also received over $2.5 million to buy a 20-room hotel in Santa Rosa for homeless tribal members.

Still, all of that housing is only enough for a fraction of the region’s roughly 2,700 homeless individuals, nearly two-thirds of whom sleep in their cars or on the street, according to the county’s 2020 homeless count.

But Tibbetts is confident the projects’ impact would be felt in local communities. The sites are geared toward housing the chronically homeless, who are the most visible on neighborhood streets and often require regular medical attention or counseling.

“We’re going to start with people who tend to be the folks who impact our business and residents the most,” Tibbetts said. “We’re going to start to notice less negative impacts as it relates to homelessness.”

You can reach Staff Writer Ethan Varian at ethan.varian@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5412. On Twitter @ethanvarian.

Ethan Varian

Housing and homelessness, The Press Democrat 

I've lived in California for most of my life, and it's hard for me to remember when the state hasn't been in a housing crisis. Here in Sonoma County, sharply rising housing costs and increasing homelessness are reshaping what was long considered the Bay Area’s “affordable” region. As The Press Democrat’s housing and homelessness reporter, I aim to cover how officials, advocates, developers and residents are reacting to and experiencing the ongoing crisis.

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