For travelers looking for a place to spend a weekend, the America’s Best Value Inn on Casa Buena Drive in Corte Madera is ideally situated: Near top-flight dining at Marin Joes, coffee at Peet’s, and shopping at the Town Center and The Village.
It might not be the best place for a long-term stay to quarantine during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, however. At least, not according to some Corte Madera residents concerned about a plan for the County of Marin to buy the motel and convert it into a shelter for homeless people who might be at risk of developing COVID-19.
The County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 20, approved a notice of intent to purchase the property, as well as an empty office building on Kerner Boulevard in San Rafael. The vote begins a three-week process ahead of the actual purchase of the properties. The State requires the County to close escrow on the properties by the end of November in order to use grant money from Project HomeKey.
The plan is part of the State’s Project HomeKey, administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. $600 million in grant funding will be made available to local public entities, including cities, counties, or other local public entities, including housing authorities or federally recognized tribal governments within California to purchase and rehabilitate housing, including hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, and other buildings and convert them into interim or permanent, long-term housing.
A similar idea caught Novato city officials by surprise when the county proposed last week to buy the Inn Marin and Suites at 250 Entrada Drive and turn it into a “homeless hotel.”
The County can use $2.7 million from the State through Project HomeKey for the purchase of the properties at 1591 Casa Buena Drive and 3301 Kerner Boulevard. The County will add some funding and the Marin Community Foundation might contribute up to $500,000. Other nonprofits, including Catholic Charities, Homeward Bound and regional affordable housing developer Eden Housing, have considered chipping in.
Homeward Bound sponsors a permanent supportive housing project for seniors on King Street in Larkspur, and owns and operates the Fireside in Mill Valley and New Beginnings Center in Novato.
The State’s offer is available only until Dec. 30, however, creating a rush for Marin County to spend the grant money.
“I am very much supportive of the efforts to address the homeless crisis,” Scott Garland told the Board of Supervisors. “But getting the buy-in from the community is critical and getting local support and visibility is key. I urge the County Supervisors to slow this down. Do it the right way. Take the time you need to allow for sufficient public comment and community input.”
The Casa Buena motel would need some renovations before people can move in. The rooms would be remodeled with kitchenettes and the outdoor areas would be upgraded to create more separation from the rest of the neighborhood.
The property would transition to interim housing, then permanent supportive housing. People would be allowed to stay as long as they are working on a long-term housing solution. Candidates would be referred for the program.
“It’s not the kind of thing where people show up and line up around the block waiting for a bed that night,” said Ashley Hart McIntyre. “It’s much more stable than that, which is better for the residents as well as much safer during a pandemic… And then when we transition to permanent supportive housing, and as interim housing, there is staff 24/7 on site. It will be well-staffed with folks who know what they’re doing, know how to work with this population, know how to manage things that might arise between residents or any possible behavioral health issues that the staff that we would be working with are very experienced. As we transition to permanent supportive housing, again we’ll be working with onsite services.”
McIntyre continued, “It’s actually one of the benefits of a permanent supportive housing program as opposed to a regular affordable housing program. The permanent supportive housing, a site-based permanent housing has onsite services so that people can get what they need right there on site and we can mitigate any troubles that might arise right away because we’re there and we know about them.”
A Corte Madera resident who lives near the Casa Buena property said there is currently “no community buy-in” and the county has a “duty to the people who live here and make us feel like we’re part of the solution and right now we don’t feel that way.”
She added: “the casa Buena proposals are for the ‘vulnerable’ who could include people with infectious diseases or drug addicts. I think it’s also important to make it clear that our neighborhood is semi-rural. These homes are in dense forestry. They don’t even have fences. It’s really not a good fit for homeless people who don’t have access to transportation nor commercial resources. I question the extent of the due diligence that was done on this property because it does not seem like it would benefit these individuals that we’re trying to help.
“More importantly, the people that live here are the ones that are in fear of criminal activity don’t feel like they’re being heard. There’s data around the country that shows the facilities like these who have many individuals who are brought to one place, it increases crime.”
McIntyre argued, “very commonly unsheltered homelessness exacerbates serious mental health issues and substance abuse issues and the simple provision of stable housing, stable, safe permanent housing actually really reduces substance use and it reduces the severity of mental illness. And it’s a first step, a necessary first step towards engaging in treatment for very many people, as well.”