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Newark eyeing $39 million state Homekey grant for homeless housing


NEWARK — Newark plans to apply for a $39 million state grant to purchase a hotel in the city and convert it to permanent housing for people who are homeless and those earning very low incomes, the first complex of its kind in the city’s history.

“This is the sort of affordable housing that’s really not created enough,” said Louis Chicoine, the director of Abode Services, a Fremont nonprofit supportive housing provider that would manage the site.

“We just see growing numbers of people on the streets, particularly families in our area, who are really struggling. They have their kids in school while they’re living from motel to motel,” Chicoine said in an interview.

The Newark City Council on Thursday is set to consider the application, which would take advantage of the latest round of funding of California’s landmark Project Homekey, a program aimed at quickly housing thousands of people without shelter across the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration said nearly $850 million was distributed in the program’s first round in 2020, going toward creating more than 6,000 permanent homes, and the state plans to spend $2.75 billion on the program — heavily supported by federal coronavirus relief funds — over this year and next.

The city is eyeing converting the TownePlace Suites hotel at 39802 Cedar Blvd., which has 125 suites, ranging from studios to two-bedroom units, all of which already include kitchens. Two of the hotel suites would be converted for a manager’s unit and a community services office, and 123 suites would be converted to apartments for the residents, city reports said.

The city also will consider kicking in $6 million of its own money — about $4.5 million from its affordable housing funds, and $1.5 million from its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The city is also requesting about $4 million from Alameda County in matching funds for the project, according to Steven Turner, the city’s community development director.

The Homekey grant funds provide up to $1,400 per unit for three years for operating costs and resident services, city reports said.

Turner said in an interview that because the hotel was only built in 2000, and renovated in 2015, it’s in very good shape, and converting suites with kitchens into permanent apartment units will require minimal work.

“So where it might take two or three years for a brand-new affordable housing development to get through the entitlements and construction before they actually start leasing units, the Homekey program … would happen in a matter of months,” Turner said.

“Being able to get affordable housing units online in months rather than years is an incredible opportunity,” he said.

Roughly half of the apartments would be reserved for people who are homeless, and the other half would be for people who are at risk of homelessness, earning very-low incomes of 30% or less of the area median income. For a single person,  30% of the median is roughly $29,000 annually, and it’s about $41,000 for a family of four.

Abode Services would oversee the purchase, conversion and management of the property in the long term.

“Newark doesn’t have any project that’s dedicated to affordable housing for this income level. This would be the first in its history,” Abode Services’ Chicoine said.

Chicoine said the people living in the converted apartments would have leases and responsibilities like any other apartment tenant.

“They have to be good neighbors, they have to pay a portion of the rent and follow the house rules and so forth, and they receive services while they’re there,” he said.

“This is sort of the gold standard for making sure that people are successful and move out of homelessness or being in danger of homelessness,” Chicoine said.

The Newark City Council meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday. To view the meeting on YouTube, click on this link. To take part via Zoom, click on this link.


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