Governor Gavin Newsom visited a Project Roomkey motel in Pittsburg, Contra Costa County to highlight progress that the state and counties have made in providing safe isolation capacity to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19 and to launch Homekey, the next phase in the state’s effort to protect vulnerable homeless Californians from the pandemic.
Homekey, backed by $1.3 billion in newly available and eligible funding through the budget the Governor signed yesterday, will allow for the largest expansion of housing for people experiencing homelessness in recent history, while addressing the continuing health and social service needs of this vulnerable population.
Under the Homekey program, counties will partner with the state to acquire and rehabilitate a variety of housing types: hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, residential care facilities, and other tiny homes. All these new placements will serve people experiencing homelessness.
Counties and cities across the state will identify which buildings they intend to purchase and apply to the state for $550 million in grant funding dedicated to this purpose. Once acquired, the local governments will plan for the long-term social services and subsidy needs of the Homekey buildings, with access to $50 million in dedicated Homekey support and an additional $300 million in general local homelessness support which can be used for Homekey, among other priorities.
In addition to these fund sources, counties and cities can access billions more in additional federal stimulus funding which, while available for a variety of purposes, is eligible to be used to provide safe shelter for homeless individuals during the pandemic.
The Governor also announced $45 million in philanthropic support – $25 million from Kaiser Permanente and $20 million from Blue Shield of California – for a new services subsidy fund directed at counties that are implementing Homekey. These contributions, originally announced in January as part of the Governor’s proposed Access to Housing Fund, were redirected by the companies to support the Homekey effort.
Acquisitions and conversions undertaken as part of Homekey will benefit from new legislation that the Governor signed yesterday, providing a CEQA exemption and automatic zoning compliance to new homeless housing utilizing newly available state and federal funding.
“We’ve long dreamed about scooping up thousands of motel rooms and converting them into housing for our homeless neighbors,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “The terrible pandemic we’re facing has given us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy all these vacant properties, and we’re using federal stimulus money to do it. Hand in hand with our county partners, we are on the precipice of the most meaningful expansion of homeless housing in decades.”
The Homekey initiative builds upon the state’s current COVID-19 response effort, Project Roomkey, which has directly led to 15,678 hotel and motel rooms statewide being made available for this extremely vulnerable group of Californians. Over 14,200 people have been served by Project Roomkey motels since the epidemic began, according to estimates from the California Department of Social Services.
These Project Roomkey placements are spread across 52 counties and 293 hotels. The counties are responsible for identifying which individuals need a Project Roomkey placement, and then moving those individuals into the rooms.
In April, Governor Newsom announced a reimbursement partnership with FEMA, whereby local, state, and tribal governments are eligible to 75 percent cost-share for Project Roomkey activities, including hotel and motel rooms and wraparound supports such as meals, security, and custodial services.
These emergency protective measures are protecting public health by isolating the medically-vulnerable, thinning out the shelter population for social distancing, slowing the rate of spread of COVID-19 and, in turn, flattening the curve.
Homeless policy leaders and local elected officials have long called for hotel/motel conversion as a strategy to bring housing for the homeless online quickly and cost effectively.