The Long Beach City Council approved a contract that will turn a 102-unit hotel property into interim housing for people experiencing homelessness at their Tuesday, Feb. 16 meeting.
The former Best Western hotel at 1725 Long Beach Blvd. will serve as Long Beach’s first City-owned Project Homekey site. Two county-run sites already exist in Long Beach.
“Every step closer we get towards the full operation of this amazing Project Homekey location makes me so very happy and excited for all of our houseless residents that are in so much need right now,” Councilmember Mary Zendejas said.
The units will be used to house individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of experiencing homelessness due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will focus on people with incomes at or below 30% of the Area Median Income ($23,700 for a single-person household).
In January 2020, the City identified 2,034 people experiencing homelessness, a 7% increase from the previous year. This year, the City skipped its annual homeless count after receiving a waiver from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The primary goal of the program is to help homeless people transition into permanent housing. Case managers for the residents will provide connections to permanent housing as well as resources for employment, mental health, transportation and food services. Security and cleaning services will be provided on site.
The project will be paid for by a $17.6 million HCD grant from the State of California. In July 2020, the State made $600 million in grant funding available to Project Homekey to expand housing inventory for people experiencing homelessness.
The site will be staffed by 17 full-time employees residing in Long Beach.
The Illumination Foundation will run the site for one year with the option to renew the contract for an additional year. After that, the site may be converted into permanent supportive housing.
“We need to do everything that we can to support getting people housed and off the streets, and especially in non-congregate facilities during this terrible COVID crisis,” Jonah Breslau, a research analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, said.
“The housing crisis that has been predating COVID for so many years. But we cannot forget the hotel workers who are also struggling in this moment.”
Councilmember Roberto Uranga pointed out the irony of the situation. While the project creates housing for the homeless, it may also put displaced hotel workers at risk of becoming homeless.
Former hotel worker Guadalupe Lopez lost her job when the Best Western she worked at was purchased by Los Angeles County to turn into a Project Homekey site.
“The problem is that when we got fired, then people were subcontracted. And so it would not be fair for our family to face homelessness in this situation,” Lopez said during public comment. She said that this month, she had to choose between paying her rent and feeding her daughter.
“I had to pick my daughter, of course,” she said. “I don’t want other workers to face the same situation that I had to face.”
Councilmember Cindy Allen suggested adding a stipulation to the contract that would require The Illumination Foundation to prioritize hiring former hotel workers before hiring subcontractors for the site.
Councilmembers did not add the hiring stipulation in their vote, given time constraints. They did, however, accept a motion by Zendejas to report back in 30 days on the City’s efforts to outreach to the laid off hotel workers.
The site is scheduled to open on March 15 of this year, the deadline required to receive state funding for the project.
The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, March 2 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.