MILPITAS (KPIX 5) — Project Homekey is the most aggressive action California has ever taken toward ending homelessness, and it’s leading to lawsuits in communities across the state.
“People are really, really angry about this,” said Andre Krammer.
Krammer lives in Milpitas and is part of a group of residents who filed a temporary restraining order and a lawsuit trying to halt progress on turning the Extended Stay America Hotel on Hillview Court into a Project Homekey property.
“Why didn’t the city notify us?” asked Janice Breaux of Milpitas.
“I think my chief concern right now is the lack of public engagement from our community for this project,” explained Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran.
Tran threatened to sue the state on behalf of the city over Project Homekey, but the city council eventually voted against it.
Project Homekey is the state’s rare opportunity to provide housing for thousands of unhoused Californians during an unprecedented housing crisis coupled with a pandemic. The money runs out December 30th.
It’s federal money from the Coronavirus Aid Relief Fund, so hotel owners who are willing to sell their properties simply tell the county and can close escrow by year’s end. Neighbors are not being consulted.
“If things are done in record time, maybe you haven’t done the correct research and information gathering that you need in order to make the facility as successful as it needs to be,” Breaux said.
In addition to the lawsuit, more than 4,100 community members in Milpitas have signed a petition opposing turning the Extended Stay America in Milpitas into permanent housing for 132 homeless people.
“It’s just not how democracy works. I mean, there’s a total lack of transparency and there’s a total lack of representation. We had no voice in any of this,” Krammer said.
“We should go with the volunteer cities first, instead of saying, ‘Hey, we’re the state of California and we’re going to ‘voluntold’ you,'” Tran said.
Residents, developers and property owners in Sacramento’s River District are suing to stop a similar project there, saying “the River District already has the most significant population of homeless individuals per capita…that its leading to rising crime, rape cases, needles, and trash on sidewalks.”
There are 95 projects under consideration statewide and $600 million up for grabs in this use it or lose it scenario.
“This is a much, much faster timeline than we would ever want to do on a project,” Ashley Hart-McIntyre, Homelessness Policy Analyst for Marin County said.
McIntyre is overseeing three Homekey applications: one in San Rafael, another Corte Madera and a third in Santa Rosa.
“The timelines of this project have made us do business a little bit differently from how we generally would. We submitted the application without having done that due diligence with the understanding, even with the state, that that due diligence would happen after the fact,” said McIntyre .
There are more than 151,000 unhoused Californians. Project Homekey could create 5,970 permanent units of housing if all projects under consideration move forward.
Californians have a history of pushing back against homeless shelters or low income housing projects. That’s why AB83, which passed this summer, circumvents local control.
Under AB83, “Project Homekey sites shall be deemed consistent and in conformity with any applicable local plan… and shall not be subject to any discretionary reviews or approvals.”
“The fact is, is we need local control. We need local control for exactly this; that the people went against this project and aren’t happy with it, because they had no knowledge of it,” said Novato Mayor Denise Athas.
Athas intended to fight a Project Homekey site in Novato that fell through because the county couldn’t come to terms on a price with the hotel owner.
So is process in place for a reason? Or is process a privilege that Californians can’t afford during this unprecedented time?
“We should do the right thing, but the right thing is to find a workable solution to a complex problem,” Krammer said.
“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, and this is the, how the state has recommended that we respond to the pandemic is by ensuring that some of the most vulnerable people in our communities are housed and that they have set that as a priority,” Leelee Thomas, Community Development Planning Manager in Marin County said.
So far community pushback hasn’t stalled any Project Homekey sites. A judge struck down the temporary restraining order filed by Milpitas residents, the lawsuit will be up for hearing in December.