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Alameda County approves purchase of hotel to house the homeless

on November 22, 2020

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors unanimously accepted a state grant to purchase property to house the homeless population, as part of California’s efforts to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic among vulnerable groups.

Even though the recommendations passed, some supervisors voiced concerns about the process. The board’s Vice President and District 5 Supervisor Keith Carson said he felt like a “gun was held in his head” just before voting.

Some supervisors said they were not happy about voting for a recommendation they felt they had not really taken time to think through.

In July, the State Department of Housing and Community Development issued a notice asking counties to apply for the funds under the Project Homekey Program. Under the program, the state partners with counties to acquire and rehabilitate hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and residential care facilities to house homeless residents who are at high risk of serious illness and those impacted by COVID-19.

Alameda County’s application for the grant was approved, and it was allocated $15 million. The deadline to use the money is Dec. 30, 2020. 

The county has since identified and reached a deal to purchase a hotel at 8350 Edes Ave., a five-story property built in 1984 and currently occupied by the Days Hotel.  The county will acquire the 140-room property at cost of $18 million.

“The purchase price requested is $2,000,000 above Alameda County’s latest appraised value of the site as it includes all personal property including furniture, fixtures and equipment, the termination of the Best Western franchise agreement,” the report explaining the purchase says.

The state had also agreed to grant the county an additional $3.2 million dollars to fund operations at the hotel. The county was to match this amount from its own sources.

But during Tuesday’s meeting, the Board of Supervisors was notified that the State had written to the county to say the funds would not be available.

It is this letter, received the day before the meeting, that left the board members confused, with the supervisors saying they needed time to understand the impact the $3.2 million deficit will have on the project.

“It’s very difficult when something like this is brought to us at the last minute and we have to read verbatim for the public’s knowledge. But in the interest of doing what we can to house people who are unsheltered, I vote aye,” said Richard Valle, the board’s president.

Carson said the state should have given the board more time to look into the matter before voting on it.

“I’m really hoping that we weren’t pushed up to the last second to receive this and make this decision. We have a fiduciary responsibility here,” he said.

With the deed for the purchase expiring on Dec. 2, the board was hard pressed for time and the matter had to be put to a vote.

In the end, the recommendation to transfer $18.2 million for the purchase of the property passed with all five votes.

“I’ll support it only because we need the housing for the homeless,” Carson said.

Under the terms of the grant, the county is to operate the property for five years, including providing services and the financial subsidy for five years. The acquisition of the hotel is part of Alameda County’s Vision 2026 goal to eliminate homelessness.

It is not clear yet how the county will decide who gets a unit or how long someone can stay in one, once offered a room.  

With rates of COVID-19 transmission in the county now rated as widespread, schools and other non-essential businesses have been ordered closed.

The county has reported an average of 200 new cases every day over the last week, a 114% rise from two weeks ago.

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