Where will the homeless go?

The Marina Village Inn is out.

The Bottle Parcel is in.

And so are two of the Big Whites.

That’s our shorthand summary of the plan currently being proposed by City staff for providing housing for the homeless in Alameda.  But it comes with a caveat:  Council still gets the last word.

We’ll begin with the announcement earlier this year that the City of Alameda would be getting $28.68 million in “American Rescue Plan Act” funds from the federal government in two tranches, the first of which ($14.34 million) the City received in June.

At the July 20 Council meeting, staff recommended that the money be spread among a variety of projects, including a “transitional” supportive housing program that would cost $2 million to set up and $600,000 per year to operate.  At the same time, staff recommended against using the ARPA funds to buy a hotel and convert it into “permanent” supportive housing.

The latter idea had been floated by Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft at the May 20 Council meeting.  The specific property she had in mind was the Marina Village Inn, a 51‑room hotel that had been used for temporary housing for women and children from the Midway Shelter as part of “Project Roomkey” (which ended on September 30).  MVI offered a “wonderful opportunity” for making housing available to homeless families, the Mayor told her colleagues.

In its staff report for the July 20 meeting, staff cited three reasons for its reluctance to endorse the MVI idea:  (1) the hotel acquisition would require spending approximately $20 million (more than two thirds of the City’s total ARPA allocation); (2) operating the hotel would cost at least $1.5 million annually, “which may be more significant as facility maintenance and replacement costs are realized over time”; and (3) the alternative of running a transitional housing program would “allow[] for the City to take on a lower ongoing cost as we continue to address homelessness in the community.”

At the July 20 meeting, Council sided with the Mayor.  Four members (all but Councilwoman Trish Spencer) agreed that providing housing for the homeless should be the top priority for the ARPA funds – and that the plans should include the Marina Village Inn.  Their arguments ranged from the pragmatic (MVI was ideally located near jobs, transit, and stores, said Councilman Tony Daysog) to the profound (“When we talk about housing, we really need to lead with the value of empathy,” said Vice Mayor Malia Vella.)

Accordingly, Council authorized City Manager Eric Levitt to begin negotiations for purchase of the Inn.  In addition, staff issued a Request for Proposals that would enable the City to get a “Project Homekey” grant that would pay for converting the property into housing for the homeless.  (Firms were also invited to submit proposals for homeless housing projects at other locations.)

At this point the plan hit a snag.

The first hint we got that something was amiss was when Councilman John Knox White stated at the September 7 Council meeting that he was “definitely losing interest in the Marina Village Inn.”  (As everyone knows, Mr. Knox White’s blessing is required to legitimize any action proposed to be taken by Council.)  But Mr. Knox White’s waning ardor wasn’t the only problem.

Mr. Levitt proved to be uncharacteristically coy in response to our inquiry about why the negotiations hadn’t resulted in a deal.  “Initial discussions and other work occurred regarding the property” was all he would tell us when we asked whether any demands and offers had been exchanged between the parties.

Ms. Ashcraft was more forthcoming.  After an inspection, she told us, the County had determined that significant remedial work would need to be done to qualify the Inn for Project Homekey funding.  (In addition, the hotel swimming pool seemed superfluous to the County.)  But the hotel owner was demanding a price that did not take account of these flaws.

At the same time, no non‑profit organization responded to the RFP with a proposal to run a permanent supportive housing project at MVI.  (Neither the Mayor nor the City Manager had any explanation for this lack of response.)

In any event, the MVI acquisition and renovation no longer was on the list of homeless housing projects presented to Council on November 2.  Not that it was dismissed entirely:  a hotel conversion “could materialize over a slightly longer time horizon,” the staff report said, and the City was “still considering options of a hotel model,” one of which was MVI, Mr. Levitt told us.

But for now, at least, the ARPA funds once earmarked for the MVI project can be used for other purposes.

One of those purposes is developing the so-called “Bottle Parcel” for housing for the homeless.

This parcel consists of a, well, bottle-shaped lot owned by the City at 2350 5th Street, next to the track at the College of Alameda and across the street from Bayport.  Staff first broached the idea of using the property for transitional or permanent housing in its July 20 staff report.  After a majority of Council reacted favorably, staff included a “ground-up build” of the parcel in its September 7 ARPA spending plan.

Originally, it appears that the Bottle Parcel was intended to be an alternative to the Marina Village Inn as a site for permanent supportive housing.  And when staff got the responses to its RFP, one group, consisting of Danco Construction as builder and Operation Dignity as service provider, proposed to develop it for that purpose.  According to the November 2 staff report, their project would house 39 people and target single adults.

But staff also received a proposal to use the Bottle Parcel for transitional supportive housing.  This proposal, with a non‑profit called DignityMoves as project developer and another non‑profit called Five Keys as service provider, would house 30 to 60 people and target adults, including “transitional-age youth,” seniors, and couples.

The staff report for the November 2 meeting stated that staff was “undertaking due diligence and deeper analysis” of both proposals, but it expressed a preference for the DignityMoves/Five Keys plan because “no other transitional housing for our unhoused community members now exists in the city.”

And, sure enough, staff will return to Council on November 16 seeking authority (1) to apply for a Project Homekey grant of up to $25 million to develop an “interim homeless housing project” on the Bottle Parcel, and (2) to contract with DignityMoves and Five Keys to oversee construction and operate the project.  In addition, staff is seeking approval for allocating $4,640,000 in ARPA funds and $1,200,000 from the General Fund to cover operating expenses for five years.  (According to the staff report, committing such “gap funding” is a requirement for a Project Homekey grant.)

If the City gets the grant, the funds would be used to construct a “prefabricated modular development” that could house up to 61 individuals and couples in 46 units that include bathrooms.  In addition, the project would offer on‑site laundry, staff offices, common areas for the community, and space for “pet relief.”

Here’s the “conceptual site layout”:

According to the staff report, once the project is up and running, residents “would receive case management and support in the following areas: obtaining permanent housing, addiction, mental health and . . . medical . . . care, public benefits, education and skill building and . . . referrals to employment services.”   They also would be offered “group activities” that “may include topics such as art, storytelling, life skills, financial literacy/household budgeting, tenants’ rights and responsibilities, nutrition and/or Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Finally, the Big Whites – the 18 single-family homes formerly occupied by naval officers at the Alameda Naval Air Station.

The July 20 staff report listing possible sites for housing for the homeless mentioned tennis courts and camp grounds at Alameda Point, but it said nothing about the Big Whites.  Once again, the first hint we got that something was up was from a comment by Mr. Knox White, who stated at the September 7 Council meeting that he was “very interested in pursuing” the idea of using the Big Whites for transitional housing.  (Are we the only ones who hang on Mr. Knox White’s every word?)

The idea then found its way into the November 2 staff report, which – without using the term “Big Whites” – disclosed that staff has been “evaluating the possibility of repurposing” three vacant City-owned homes at Alameda Point “to address an immediate emergency homeless housing need.”  Two of those properties were Big Whites containing four-plus bedrooms.  The other was a three-bedroom townhome.

The three sites – 2845 Pearl Harbor Road, 2815 Newport Road, and 2700 Lemoore Road – are shown on this map:

After Council endorsed this idea at the November 2 meeting, staff put together a plan, which it will present for approval at the November 16 Council meeting, (1) to spend $300,000 to remodel the three homes, and (2) to enter into a $2.5 million, two‑year contract with a non-profit organization called Bay Area Community Services to operate an “emergency” housing program for Alameda residents.  (Staff also proposes to apply for a small Homeless Emergency Aid Program grant from the County that would go toward the cost of remodeling.)

According to the staff report, BACS’ services will include one meal a day, food for individual meal preparation, case management and referral services, housing navigation services, staff oversight and “other supportive services.”  Residents will receive “intensive housing search assistance,” including “application assistance, advocacy, identification of roommates for shared housing, exploration of reuniting with family members, outreach to landlords, assistance with securing housing vouchers, job search support, and assistance with public benefits.”  Once placed in housing, they will get up to nine months of “transitional case management” and up to 12 months of “tapering/transitional financial support.”

Mayor Ashcraft told us that BACS proposes to house 32 residents in the Big Whites and townhome – 11 people in each of the two larger homes, and 10 people in the third.  The staff report states that the program “would be open to all adults over 18 and residing in the city,” who will be able to live with their partners and pets (and service animals).  It doesn’t mention children, but the Mayor told us that kids also would be allowed.

Both the remodeling and the supportive services will be paid for with ARPA funds.

As we understand it – and don’t hold us to the lingo – supportive housing for the homeless usually is broken down into three categories:  emergency, transitional, and permanent.  The difference between “emergency” and “transitional” depends on whom you talk to.  (Mayor Ashcraft told us that she was informed the former term referred to housing where homeless people may stay for up to six months and the latter to housing where they may stay for up to two years.)  In any event, the current plan checks all three boxes:  The Big Whites and townhome provide “emergency” housing; the Bottle Parcel supplies “transitional” housing; and if and when the City buys the Marina Village Inn (or another hotel), it will offer “permanent” housing.

And the cost?  Well, it appears that, except for $1.2 million from the General Fund (which won’t be needed till 2027), the federal and state governments will be picking up the tab.  There is, of course, always the possibility that, even though the state is offering a whopping $1.45 billion in the second tranche of Project Homekey funds in the current fiscal year, the City may not get the grants it is applying for.  If so, staff will need to find another source of cash to finance development of the Bottle Parcel.

The remaining ARPA funds would be the logical place to start looking.  We haven’t done an accounting of the commitments made to-date – Mr. Levitt told us he will present an update on ARPA spending in December – but the well is not bottomless.  Moreover, as those who supported staff’s original idea of “spreading the wealth” among various projects have pointed out, every ARPA dollar spent for homeless programs is a dollar that can’t be spent for other “eligible” purposes – such as, to pick Mayor Ashcraft’s favorite example, a Universal Basic Income program for low-income Alameda residents – or former Mayor Spencer’s preeminent priority, eliminating the “digital gap” by expanding broadband service across the island.

For our part, we would be the last to argue that spending money to combat homelessness isn’t a worthwhile, even a noble, endeavor, but we also recognize that there may be other victims of the pandemic who could benefit as well from the assistance the ARPA funds enable the City to provide.  After all, wasn’t redressing the impact of the pandemic on all segments of society the reason for the program in the first place?

Sources:

ARPA: 2021-05-11 staff report re ARPA; 2021-07-20 staff report re ARPA funds; 2021-09-07 staff report re ARPA spending plan

Homeless housing: 2021-07-20 staff report re housing sites; 2021-07-20 staff report re Marina Village Inn; 2021-11-02 staff report re housing alternatives; 2021-11-16 staff report re Bottle Parcel; 2021-11-16 staff report re emergency services

About Robert Sullwold

Partner, Sullwold & Hughes Specializes in investment litigation
This entry was posted in Alameda Point, City Hall, Housing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Where will the homeless go?

  1. Rabbit says:

    Ok,…not going to write about ideas for how to spend the funds? You’re really just going to write “neener neener dumheads” and be out? Very weak Bob.

  2. Publius says:

    “Where will the homeless go?”

    They’ll follow the money.

    If that money is spent on “permanent supportive housing” then they’ll go there and many more will follow them. Why bother showing up to a job to qualify for your own apartment when you can get high all day, shoplift anything you need, and have the taxpayers keep a roof over your head permanently?

    Unhoused people need help, obviously. That help should be temporary and geared toward getting that person to live independently. It should include things like a bunk and a shower in a shelter, job placement assistance, mental health & addiction treatment. These should be temporary and by design somewhat Spartan. The goal is to help someone down on their luck get back to living independently, not be permanent wards of the city.

    Supporters of “permanent supportive housing” love to crow that their plan solves homelessness. It doesn’t solve anything, it just creates dependency, and very expensive dependency at that. The most “permanent” aspect of it is that its proponents will permanently dun the city for more millions every year.

    • Comment Section Missing IQ Filter says:

      I love checking the comments to see how asinine some of the commenters can get, and this one absolutely takes the cake – a whole lot of baseless conjectures, extrapolations, and ugly stereotypes simply by guessing what “permanent supportive housing” means without doing a shred of Googling. Let me fill you in.

      Alameda Point Collaborative provides permanent supportive housing to 500 residents, 40% of them are children. At least one adult in each home has a disability. 1/3rd of income must go towards rent. As for the “permanent supportive housing” part – residents stay only as long as they require services, otherwise they get moved to other permanent housing. In over 20 years, thousands of families have successfully moved on to more stable lives. This is a nationally renown program that works very successfully. I was able to piece all this information together simply by doing 5 minutes of Googling instead of typing out my ignorance for all of Alameda to see.

  3. Publius says:

    I’d like to see evidence that “thousands” of families have moved on from APC.

    And when this happens —– ” residents stay only as long as they require services, otherwise they get moved to other permanent housing” —- how often are they moving into self sufficiency vs. more taxpayer funded housing?

    • NIMBYs Gonna NIMBY says:

      You made your baseless assertion, the burden is on you to prove otherwise. Other people should not do your homework for you. Come up with solutions instead of undercutting our local success stories.

      • Publius says:

        I tried five minutes of googling, as the previous poster calmly and gently suggested, and could not find evidence for “thousands of families” moving on from APC.

        As for solutions, I stated one above, copied for you here:

        Unhoused people need help, obviously. That help should be temporary and geared toward getting that person to live independently. It should include things like a bunk and a shower in a shelter, job placement assistance, mental health & addiction treatment. These should be temporary and by design somewhat Spartan. The goal is to help someone down on their luck get back to living independently, not be permanent wards of the city.

    • Comment Section Missing IQ Filter says:

      This was based on a comment put out by APC during the 2018 wellness campaign. Thousands of families over a 20-year period. Imagine how many lives have been saved by keeping them off of the streets, including children, all the while you’re busy being a brave keyboard warrior. Now, where’s your “evidence” for this statement: “Why bother showing up to a job to qualify for your own apartment when you can get high all day, shoplift anything you need, and have the taxpayers keep a roof over your head permanently”?

      I understand that these programs are extremely hard to get into. Permanent supporting housing are scarce, especially during our housing crisis. You really have to be the right kind of candidate to even get onto the wait list, which could take months if not years. Even after you get housing, you have to keep meeting all the lease agreements and rules, or you get evicted.

      • Publius says:

        The assertion that lots of people with an option to live on the public dole instead of their own dime will take it is just a simple, logical conclusion. What evidence do you require for that?

        But you know what kind of statement should have evidence? One that claims “thousands of families have successfully moved on to more stable lives” after receiving permanent housing from a local institution. Five minutes of googling couldn’t find any evidence of APC achieving such a number. Surprising, really, one would think they’d trumpet that on their web page. That’s a big number from 200 dwellings, so it’s quite strange that you can’t show any evidence, especially considering your stated contempt for “baseless conjectures.”

        And IQ is an outdated & racist measure. Please get with the times.

  4. Common Sense says:

    Publius-you speak the truth most don’t want to acknowledge. And I don’t remember any current Alameda politicians campaigning on making homeless housing the #1 priority of this city or promise to use “empathy” to drive decision making instead of being fiscally responsible with the public’s money.

    It is interesting to compare any plan to ruin (I mean repurpose) the Big Whites and fill them with fentanyl addicts, with SF, who restored their Big Whites on the Presidio and rents them out making huge profits for the City. If only most of our politicians weren’t captured by the homeless industrial complex (comment section/IQ filter) desperate to expand.

    • Jack Mingo says:

      Dear brave anonymous NIMBY warriors,
      I live in a Big White adjacent to one of the proposed units. I have been in two of the LaMoor units several times. The idea that 10 or 11 people—2 per bedroom—could feel like they’re living in luxury inside either one is laughable. Even half that number can feel oppressively close at times. Don’t worry: with that little person space and 3.5 bathrooms (1.5 shared, 2 imbedded in bedrooms so they’re hard to share widely), you’ll be happy to know that the temporary residents will be appropriately miserable.

      • Curtis Thomas says:

        I’m worried about our children playing safely around homes packed with 10 plus persons who, some of which, will undoubtedly have drug problems, psychological problems, and perhaps criminal histories. Will there be daily onsite supervision? Nobody has told us anything about the details. We’d like to know what the full plan is. Is this to be permanent? Will they do the same thing again with each home that becomes vacant? I am not aware of any current residents being reached out to for their opinions and concerns.

      • SE Sheesh says:

        and have you seen the proposed costs?
        Currently each house gives the City revenue of about $50K per year, but this proposal is to instead PAY an outside agency out of public coffers at a loss of $1.25 mil per year in order to supposedly help 32 people?
        and dont forget the immediate upfront “remodel” cost of $300K that will take at least a year to complete (PS. its gonna take alot more $$ than that to get those houses in shape).
        So if i got this right, instead of $450,000 in revenue over 3 years, they’re proposing a net loss of about $2.5 million. …Is someone pranking me?

      • anonymous says:

        Sheesh says, “each house gives the City revenue of about $50K per year”. That doesn’t sound right. After all, a million dollar house generates roughly $2,500 in annual property taxes that go to the city (($1M X ~.01) X .25), and a household whose income is roughly $121,000 generates roughly $700 a year in annual sales taxes that go to the city ((Taxable Spending X Sales Tax rate) X Portion of Sales tax that goes to the city). Annual sales taxes and property taxes adds up to only ~$3,200 — a far cry from $50K. Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong?

      • Publius says:

        Perhaps Sheesh is referring to the rent that tenants pay the city to live in Big Whites?

      • SE Sheesh says:

        The houses are owned by the City as a gift from the Navy. They are revenue generating. The neighborhood of about 20 homes gives the City about $2 million per year.

      • David says:

        @anonymous

        I’m pretty sure you are wrong about a few statements re: the expenses for the rental ‘big whites’

        I believe the City of Alameda owns the property. Ergo, they don’t pay any property taxes…. they don’t pay property taxes to themselves, nor to the county…. so no property tax revenue there. (Who did you imagine paid the property taxes? The tenants paying rent??)

        The $50,000 in revenue to the City of Alameda is premised on the tenants paying rent. $50K/12 = $4,100 per month. I’m not sure if that’s what they pay, but that sounds ballpark for a 3 or 4 bedroom SFH in Alameda.

      • anonymous says:

        Yes, you’re right, the calculations were for a million dollar home in Alameda, not for big whites.

  5. Brian Wilkerson says:

    Simply said..”How can this be remotely a solution”?

    Common sense needs to prevail in times like these. Let the facts steal loud and clear: 1. Small children playing in streets with no need to worry of safety (Gone). 2. Drugs or wondering people are extremely limited as all who live in this area must work to pay 4K per month rent (Gone). 3. Multi schools with K through high school and several highly desired to attend (Gone). 4. Clean and home friendly resistance free of illegal substances (Gone). 5. Promote the point as the place to live (GONE). Etc…

    My questions to the board- if this was your neighborhood, would you be so eager to say “Yes” bring it on? How does placing up to 12 adults in these Big Whites with 3-4 bedrooms which require thousands of dollars of repairs set the residents toward success to be a contributor in life?

    I await patiently and with a open mind the cities reply.
    Kindest Regards and best to the families of the Point going forward.

    • SE Sheesh says:

      Why is it they are only proposing the most far-fetched and fiscally ridiculous options? what about the acres and acres of vacant buildings on the base that are already suited for this stuff? an isolated shanty town right next to the college? housing for only a few people in the middle of a residential neighborhood that robs the city of revenue and uses an exorbitant amount of public money going private pockets? who is captaining the ship? robber barons? does anyone have a brain?

    • SE Sheesh says:

      not only fiscally irresponsible and out of compliance with zoning and Historical Preservation codes, but no way the plumbing is going to be able to handle 12 adults using the bathrooms.

  6. SE Sheesh says:

    not only fiscally irresponsible and out of compliance with zoning and Historical Preservation codes, but no way the plumbing is going to be able to handle 12 adults using the bathrooms.

  7. SE Sheesh says:

    Why is it they are only proposing the most far-fetched and fiscally ridiculous options? what about the acres and acres of vacant buildings on the base that are already suited for this stuff? an isolated shanty town right next to the college? housing for only a few people in the middle of a residential neighborhood that robs the city of revenue and uses an exorbitant amount of public money going private pockets? who is captaining the ship? robber barons? does anyone have a brain?

  8. SE Sheesh says:

    Wait a minute, did you say $25 MILLION of public money put in private pockets for the Bottleneck shanty town? PLUS $1.2 mill per year for operating costs? To house 39 people?? How does this make any sense?
    How about this: the City can just rehab some of the barracks over at the base with that money (they’re still in good shape but even if not it would still cost less), and hey–make a social services department at City Hall West to serve the population they claim they so desperately want to help. , How about that instead of lining developer pockets. What a concept!
    Oh I have another idea. Give me $30,000 per person, and I will totally make sure they have somewhere to live and people who will help them. Makes more sense than the current proposal, thats for sure.

    • Publius says:

      And after that we’re gonna need another 25 mil plus expenses for the next group, and more for the next ad impecunium.

      People follow the money. You do, I do, homeless do.

    • Mask Up Please says:

      Shelby Sheehan – where’s your outrage for the prison industry, which cost $80,000 per year to house a prisoner? $30k is a steal. Not that I’m comparing homeless people with prisoners, but I guess I’m speaking the language of some of the commentators here so they can better follow along. Should we really be taking policy ideas from an anti-vaxxer and anti-mask plague rat? Are you still shaking down local businesses like the Grocery Outlet for enforcing the mask mandate?

      • Shelby Sheehan says:

        Changing the subject doesn’t change the reality that this is a ridiculous waste of money. And publishing lies about people on the web will get you in legal trouble, so I can understand why you are hiding your identity.

      • Mask Up Please says:

        [comment deleted]

        Ed. Note: As our regular readers know, we generally approve all comments, but we have a rule limiting ad hominem attacks: every commenter gets to besmirch the character of another commenter once, and the insulted commenter gets to respond. But that’s the limit — which Mask Up Please and Shelby Sheehan now have reached.

  9. SE Sheesh says:

    Robert–how about the follow up on this story?

  10. Panomar man says:

    Based on frequent traffic in/out of the building, the Marina Village Inn appears to be running some sort of shelter program again.
    Did the city start up another round at that building?

  11. Publius says:

    A piece on “permanent supportive housing” in the Chron is an excellent argument against bring PSH to Alameda:

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/san-francisco-sros/

    All throughout this article two things keep getting repeated:

    -Homeless people’s behavior is largely what makes these places so horrible. There are multiple citations of violence and repeated drug activity. It’s unfashionable to say so in these woke times, but people who are so committed to their meth or heroin that they end up on the street — including many named in the article who chose the street over SRO — are generally beyond help. That’s a tragedy, but it’s also a reality. The picture of the guy on his bed with trash all over the floor complaining about mice was illustrative, to say the least.

    -Money & mismanagement. Staggering sums of money are casually strewn about this article. 7 million here, 200 million there, all throughout. The SRO costing more than a new market rate apartment was really something. The city is incapable of managing money or projects, but they will always ask for more dough. More money is always their solution for their very expensive failures. Throwing piles of money at homelessness has never achieved anything other than more homelessness. The Homeless Industrial Complex: Bums follow money, rodents follow bums, rinse and repeat.

    What is the solution? It’s simple but also not legal, at least not today it isn’t: enforce vagrancy laws, commit mentally people to full time care. Neither is possible under current laws and case precedents, such as the Boise case. A solution that is legal right now would be to stop tolerating hard drug use and the property crime that fuels it, but SF (and soon to be Alameda when PSH becomes entrenched here) is just unwilling to do so. “Crimes of survival” and all that.

    If you think PSH is a good model for Alameda, read this article. After that, if you still think we should do it, come back & tell us why.

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