With more than $700 million in new state funds available starting April 24 for Homekey projects, Orange County Fifth District Board Supervisor Katrina Foley urges cities to work with the county to build shelters and housing.
On Friday, March 31, Foley sent a letter to all elected officials in the county encouraging cities to identify potential sites for permanent supportive housing and apply for state funding. Cities can apply for Round 3 Homekey Funds starting April 24 until July 28 or until the state runs out of funds.
In her letter, Foley wrote that “working together, we can bring well-deserved dollars to Orange County to build quality housing for those currently living on our streets, on the verge of becoming unhoused, or living in overcrowded conditions.”
Speaking with the Dana Point Times, Foley explained that any governmental entity could apply for state funding by identifying a potential site for permanent supportive housing.
Project Homekey, Foley explained, converts motels, hotels and other dilapidated or under-performing sites into permanent supportive housing. Permanent supportive housing offers “navigation services, wraparound services to help people who are low-income, extremely low-income to be able to live in a quality way,” Foley said.
After identifying a potential site, which may be a motel, under-utilized industrial building, or surplus property, for example, the governmental agency would approach the county to apply for Project Homekey.
In early March, the county sought affordable housing developers interested in participating in the Project Homekey developments, Foley explained.
“So, we’ll have a list of developers that we can match with the cities to be able to build the project, and the county then applies with the city for the funding with the developer,” Foley said.
“It’s going to be a very competitive process at the state level, first-come, first-served,” Foley continued. “So, if we get in, then the county will help with providing all the legal, technical (services), working with (a) nonprofit; the county will really, to the extent the city wants us to, take the lead.”
Foley added that the County Board of Supervisors would need to hold a vote to accept the projects as well.
“If we identify a site and the county and the city teams go out, and they talk to the property owner and the developer comes in, and they say, ‘yes, we want to do this, we want to sell you our parcel,’ then the county begins the process of buying the parcel from the property owner and then the parcel would become a permanent supportive housing,” Foley said.
In previous rounds of Project Homekey, Foley noted that the county built 391 homes by converting motels to permanent supportive housing in Stanton, Costa Mesa and Huntington Beach.
Through Project Homekey, Foley aims to end veteran homelessness.
“We have identified 290 veterans that need housing,” Foley said. “If we’re able to build 290 units of housing through the Project Homekey, we can eliminate veterans’ homelessness.”
“That is something that I hope that people will consider that we’re trying to help people, especially those who have served our country and are struggling now,” Foley continued. “We’re trying to help them to be housed because when they’re housed, we can better treat whatever their health-related or mental health-related issues are.”
San Clemente Mayor Chris Duncan attended Foley’s Lunch and Learn on Friday, March 31, when he received her letter.
“I can only speak for myself in terms of how the council would participate or what the idea of our council would be, but I can tell you that I am very supportive of these efforts and would appreciate the opportunity to engage with the county in identifying sites,” Duncan said.
“In fact, I do believe we have motel owners who would be interested in working with the county to transition those properties to some type of housing,” Duncan continued.
If there are viable locations for Homekey projects in San Clemente, Duncan added that he’d hope the city would support applications for state funding.
“We need all the affordable housing that we can get, and here we have motels that actually may be better suited for affordable housing,” Duncan said.
“I think the city would play sort of a cooperative, collaborative role,” Duncan continued.
Duncan added that the city does not have any staffing or resources to operate or run a Homekey project and would instead require the county, groups or organizations to step in to run a permanent supportive housing development.
If the city is willing to move permanent supportive housing projects forward and spends time and resources to do so, Duncan noted that he would like to see the county reciprocate by taking “a leadership role in setting up a regional emergency shelter for South Orange County and helping us on that end of the larger homeless issue.”
“We’re missing that probably more than anything else, and so the county is in a way better position, of course, than the city on emergency shelter operations,” Duncan continued.
Foley noted that the county is “ready, willing and able to help facilitate the South County cities—San Juan (Capistrano), San Clemente, Dana Point—who have been talking a lot about collaboration,” but that the cities need to identify a location for a regional shelter.
“As their county supervisor, I’m here to help them to try to find the funds, but I’m not going to take away their self-determination as to what location they want,” Foley said. “So, as soon as the cities identify a location for a shelter, the better.”
“I know as a former mayor of a city that didn’t have a shelter and it had encampments and it could do nothing about it, that once you have a shelter in place, then you can start to do enforcement, you can start to move people off of beaches, out of the park, out from in front of businesses and into the shelter,” Foley continued. “It’s better for everyone.”
Matisse Reischl, assistant to the city manager in San Juan, also commented that the city would be “happy to discuss potential affordable housing opportunities in more detail.”
“In fact, the City of San Juan Capistrano has recently collaborated with affordable housing developers to bring two affordable housing projects to San Juan Capistrano,” Reischl said in an email.
Reischl added that the city has provided land and housing funds to C&C Development to construct a 70-unit affordable housing project, including 10 units of permanent supportive housing for seniors and veterans over the age of 62.
The city also sold a portion of its City Hall site on Paseo Adelanto, and provided housing funds to Jamboree Housing for the development of a 50-unit permanent supportive housing project.
“The City of San Juan Capistrano would be open to exploring the feasibility of similar permanent supportive housing opportunities with the County, as well as other South Orange County cities,” Reischl said.
Dana Point City Manager Mike Killebrew commented that the city is always open to pursuing funds for affordable housing and is a member of the Orange County Housing Finance Trust, which works to fund housing for homeless individuals and extremely-low-, very-low- and low-income families.
“We’re all in on helping the homeless here,” Killebrew said, noting that the city’s homeless outreach worker, Tamara Theodossin, helps an average of three to three and a half individuals gain housing per month.
Killebrew added that the city’s Homeless Outreach Team, comprising a social worker, members of the public works department, the city’s homeless liaison and the assistant city manager, meet weekly to discuss efforts to help the city’s homeless get housed.
Though the community development department and Assistant City Manager Kelly Reenders have talked with affordable housing developers to bring projects to Dana Point, Killebrew said that land in Dana Point is expensive and often a hurdle in moving projects forward.
Unlike other affordable housing developments, Foley clarified that a condition of the state funding is that Homekey projects be constructed within a year of being approved.
By sending out the informational letter about the availability of Project Homekey funds, Foley explained that she wants to ensure that “all elected officials in the district and the community know about these programs and services and can take advantage of them if they think they would benefit them.”
“I sent this letter out to let them know and so that it might inspire some people to identify some sites that we could look into and make some things happen in such a short time period,” Foley continued. “We have to submit a project by April 24, so that’s not a lot of time.”