Project Homekey in Los Angeles: turning hotels into housing for the homeless
In November 2020 the Project Homekey Solution was launched in Los Angeles,. Building on a previous project " Roomkey”, the new “Homekey” project was designed as the next phase, in response to homelessness in the context of the pandemic . The idea was now to convert temporary motel units into interim and ultimately permanent and long-term housing. The aim of the project is tackling homelessness by not only providing permanent housing but also supporting services such as health and employment support.
The initiative was decisively steered by the Governor of California who engaged the use of federal funds . There are currently more than 66.000 people experiencing homelessness in L.A. County on any given night. Administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, $600 million in grant funding were made available to local public entities, including cities, counties and other local public entities.
Development of housing solutions in L.A.
Los Angeles has a long history of using motels as housing solutions, starting to do so in the 1980s to respond to the lack of shelter beds for the homeless. These interim solutions then were mostly established to provide emergency accommodation to families and those who experience domestic violence.
Since the 1995s L.A. has adopted a Housing First Model and the focus has therefore now shifted to making permanent units available to tackle homelessness. In 2016 the Mayor of LA decided to fund an initiative called “bridge housing” taking on a hybrid approach between shelters and transitional housing, mostly providing small homes. Homekey builds upon the Project Roomkey, which urgently housed vulnerable people experiencing homelessness to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Under Project Roomkey, 5000 people will be housed in LA County in 6 months, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
At the end of project Roomkey, there was a need and a will to establish permanent solutions to re-house those now in temporary accommodation. Hence, under the project Homekey the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles acquired 20 properties: 16 motels, 2 multi-family, 1 coop living building; 1 nursing home, representing 1040 units at a total cost of Dollars 238.032.553 for 140 housing units in total, or 228.877 per unit houses.
Selection of the properties
The Housing Authority wanted those units to be ready within 4 months. Hence especially motels seemed a suitable choice as they were easily convertible into apartments. The Housing Authority tried to buy some of the properties that already provided shelter under the Project Roomkey to avoid that clients needed to move.
Generally, the Authority attempted to identify:
- Properties throughout the city so homeless people were not disconnected from their social networks
- Properties that would comply with environmental and safety standards without need for too much transformations.
- Properties that for instance, have had small kitchenettes installed, so that the need for pipings change would be kept to a minimal and could be done promptly.
The acquisition process of the 20 selected units was completed on December 30th, 2020.
In early 2021 most of the sites will begin operating as interim housing facilities, also known as temporary shelters. At the beginning of February 2021, approximately 50% of the recent purchased units are occupied.
The plan is that within approximately two years, these sites will be converted into permanent supportive housing, which provide permanent housing combined with supportive services.
The rent is paid through public subsidies as otherwise, those units would not be affordable for people who have no or very low income.
Furthermore, the Californian legislator wants to allocate additional 750 Million Dollars to continue the acquisition program.
A decisive element of the project seems to be its political backing at state level that enabled both financing and a mechanism of pre-approval preventing opposition to the project development through the “not in my backyard”-phenomenon.
More about the project Homekey:
You can watch a presentation of the Project by Jenny Scanlin, Chief Strategic Development Officer at Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles here: