The Redwood City Council is planning to hold a public hearing next month to discuss whether it should spend roughly $1.3 million to help the county upgrade a recently purchased hotel it plans to convert into affordable housing for homeless people.
The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors announced this month they plan to purchase the Comfort Inn & Suites in downtown Redwood City.
This $17 million project is the latest move in an ongoing effort to address the growing homeless population and achieve the county’s stated goal of “functional zero.” The hotel, which is located across from Harry’s Hofbrau at 1818 El Camino, would create 51 rooms for homeless people seeking permanent housing.
“It won't be a shelter; it'll be housing with services,” said County Manager Mike Callagy. “And that's pretty unique because we need a path out of those shelters, like the Pacific Inn and other locations.”
The plan, Callagy said, is to provide permanent housing while connecting residents with employment and other services so they can “sustain themselves into the future.”
During a Jan. 4 meeting, supervisors passed a resolution declaring the Board’s intention to purchase the hotel, but the final acquisition depends on state funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey, for which the county has applied.
“The state’s asked us a lot of questions about the proposal, so it seems like they're interested,” said County Housing Director Raymond Hodges. “We’re crossing our fingers right now, hoping for an award. Hopefully in the not too distant future.”
If approved, the Homekey fund is expected to cover approximately $16 million of the total cost of acquisition and renovations, with the rest coming from the county’s General Fund.
In addition to being centrally located, with easy access to downtown Redwood City and public transportation, the Comfort Inn—by virtue of being a hotel—makes for a convenient “turnkey” housing project, Callagy said.
“One of the reasons that these are such a viable mechanism for housing is that we don't have to wait five years for a whole building process to take place,” he said.
Converting a hotel is much cheaper and more efficient than building from the ground up, he said. Some rooms already have kitchenettes, and the rest are plumbed and awaiting installation.
The Redwood City council may also contribute upwards of $1.3 million to rehabilitation costs, such as adding kitchenettes and accessibility upgrades, according to a recent press release.
At a public hearing scheduled for February 14, the council will decide about possible contributions including $1,194,369 in HOME Investment Partnerships American Rescue Plan Program (HOME-ARP) funds and $342,873 in unspent HOME funds.
Plus, added Hodges, “Since it's just in hotel use right now, we wouldn't have to worry about existing tenants. So it'd be sort of a blank slate to work with.”
All rooms will go to formerly homeless people, with a focus on those currently unhoused in Redwood City, he said.
“There are a number of interim housing and shelter sites in Redwood City,” Hodges said. “So those folks, and people from their safe parking program, would be given priority to be able to move into the space.”
The county is currently in talks with many local nonprofits interested in partnering on the new project. In addition to overseeing general operations of the new housing facility, the county’s future partner will help secure ongoing funding while also providing services like case management and employment assistance.
Hodges said the annual operating budget will be roughly $1 million, “including the team of supportive service staff that would be assisting the tenants.” Residents will pay rent that is equivalent to 30% of their income, Hodges said, while the rest of the cost is expected to be covered by Section 8 rental subsidies or smaller rental assistance programs operated by the state housing authority.
This permanent housing model is expected to help many individuals who are employed but haven’t been able to afford rent in higher-income areas.
“There’s a crazy amount of people in San Mateo County who are homeless but working,” Hodges said.
Apart from the final Homekey award, all other processes are on track. A recent environmental site assessment was conducted and found no potential hazards. Similarly, a Property Condition Report confirmed that all facilities, including HVAC systems, are in good condition.
Escrow is expected to close by April 4, according to Hodges.
If finalized, the Comfort Inn will become the third hotel purchased by the county in Redwood City, after the Pacific Inn on El Camino and TownPlace Suites in Redwood Shores. The county received over $33 million in Project Homekey funding to purchase those two properties, collectively providing 170 rooms.
In December, the county was also awarded $13.5 million to purchase and renovate the Stone Villa Inn in San Mateo, which will provide 44 rooms for immediate, temporary shelter to residents seeking permanent housing. Shortly after, the county received more than $55 million in Homekey funds to build the new 240-unit Navigation Center near Highway 101 in Redwood City.
“This is a reflection of the state’s and county’s values that if you make the commitment, you can send people who are homeless on a path toward stable lives if you provide them with intensive support services such as job training, counseling and more,” David Canepa, president of the Board of Supervisors, said in a statement. “San Mateo County can achieve functional zero homelessness with the help of these two projects and I want to praise our staff for the hard work they have done to secure these life- and community-changing awards.”
Though the county is actively looking for other hotels, particularly in the north part of the county, Callagy said they haven’t made offers just yet.
“The Board has long wanted to get to functional zero on homelessness,” said Callagy. “And this is certainly part of that strategy.”