With homeless populations growing during COVID-19 and no end to the pandemic in sight, state and local leaders have been scrambling to find ways to get – and keep – vulnerable residents off the streets.
But an effort to fast-track new long-term housing for the homeless by renovating a Milpitas hotel has hit a snag as residents and the Milpitas City Council balked at the plan, saying the community was frozen out of the process.
“While we all sympathize with the needs of our homeless brothers and sisters, we have grave concerns about the impact of this project on the local community and adjacent neighborhoods and think it requires more study,” says a petition signed by nearly 3,000 people as of Tuesday night.
The Milpitas City Council has sent a letter to Santa Clara County opposing the plan, which would create apartments at an Extended Stay America hotel in the city’s Hillview neighborhood. That’s according to MilpitasBeat.com and The San Jose Mercury News.
The plan is part of the state’s Project HomeKey effort to turn former hotels, residential care facilities and other empty housing into permanent units for the homeless. Under Assembly Bill 83, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed in June, such housing can sidestep local zoning rules to get units built fast, reports MilpitasBeat.com.
This means the plan can go forward without city approval – but the City Council is having none of it and is considering suing to stop the project. Council members cited a lack of community input or guarantees that Milpitas homeless would get spots in the housing, concerns echoed by residents.
“This project is being imposed on the people of Milpitas without their input and without public participation,” states the petition. “A project of this size requires full transparency … and the full involvement of local residents who will be impacted by this project.”
If the plan fails, its Project Homekey funding will likely go to a different housing project in the state, the acting director of the county’s office of supportive housing told the Mercury News. “It’s a significant setback when we’re trying to solve the housing and homelessness crisis in our community,” the director told the paper.
More than 150,000 people were homeless in the state on any given day before the pandemic hit, according to The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and a new report from UCLA says that over 269,000 California K-12 students were without stable housing in the 2018-19 school year. “These numbers are likely higher” now, warns a webpage about the report.
The dispute comes as other cities are looking to move forward with similar projects; San Jose is considering buying the Sure Stay Best Western San Jose Airport hotel, reports the San Jose Splotlight.