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Sonoma County supervisors poised to give final approval for purchase of hotels in Santa Rosa, Sebastopol to shelter homeless

Sonoma County supervisors are set to give final approval this week for the purchase of two hotels in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol to shelter homeless people, marking the next step in the county’s push to protect those vulnerable residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The county is poised to spend more than $18 million to acquire Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa and the Sebastopol Inn. While the Board of Supervisors is set to authorize the acquisition of both hotels Tuesday, the Sebastopol Inn deal will remain on hold indefinitely until the county obtains state funding to complete the purchase.

The county in July agreed to pay $7.95 million for Hotel Azura, exponentially more than the previous owners paid a decade ago during the Great Recession. An appraisal sent to the state last week confirmed the price and the state has awarded the county funding for the acquisition.

The Board of Supervisors’ decision will come more than a month after state officials announced millions in grant funding would flow to the county to buy the 44-room Santa Rosa hotel, which county housing leaders have sought since midsummer over the objections of some neighbors who say there’s already an overconcentration of homeless services downtown.

Those services, as well as ready access to public transit, were touted by county leaders as part of the county’s application for state funding, which was approved last month.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose district includes Hotel Azura, said she’s thrilled to be able to cast her vote Tuesday.

“Permanent supportive housing is how we end homelessness,” Zane said Sunday. “Thanks to the governor’s vision and our relentless attempts as a county, 50 or more people will have a home — something we all desire and deserve.”

The Hotel Azura acquisition will be funded, in part, with a $9.8 million grant from Project Homekey, a more than $1 billion state program designed to curb homelessness and protect vulnerable Californians during the pandemic. The state initially announced it would give nearly $11 million to the county for the project. Officials could not explain why the final figure was smaller than the one announced by the state.

A separate $10.3 million deal to buy the 31-room Sebastopol Inn, which city leaders in Sebastopol have supported, remains on the state’s Project Homekey waiting list, even after another multimillion-dollar cash infusion from the Legislature. The California Department of Housing and Community Development will announce more awards in the coming weeks, a spokeswoman said via email.

Sonoma County’s push to secure hotel space for homeless residents comes in the wake of a deal with Sonoma State University that opened up space in university dorm rooms and the campus recreation center over the summer to be used for isolation, quarantine and surge space for coronavirus patients, and to house vulnerable homeless residents. The county left the campus in mid-July and has been using alternative sites to house people during the pandemic.

All told, Sonoma County sought nearly $30 million from the state. It expects to spend $16.5 million to acquire, renovate and operate Hotel Azura in the first two years.

The state money is part of federal coronavirus relief legislation and must be spent by the end of the year, giving preference to projects that are able to be converted quickly to serve homeless residents.

Sonoma County has promised to house at least 44 homeless residents at the Hotel Azura property, which must serve as affordable housing for the next decade, according to the county’s agreement with the state.

A portion of the county’s annual $1.6 million in operating costs will come from federal housing vouchers, which the county helps homeless residents secure, according to county documents. Other funding, county leaders have said, may come from the voter-approved Measure O, a new quarter-cent sales tax expected to generate at least $25 million annually for mental health and homelessness services.

“That’s why we have Measure O on the ballot,” Zane said previously. “It will be the fund for some of those services.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @TylerSilvy

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