East Bay city pledges $2 million to support homeless housing

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ANTIOCH — Antioch has pledged to spend up to $2 million to support housing some of the city’s homeless residents as it applies for state Homekey Program grant funding.

The money will come from what the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, though the exact amount will depend on the housing that is developed.

The staff had proposed Antioch commit three times as much — $6 million — and find a developer to partner with to best position the city for the next round of the competitive grant, which will become available this fall. The $6 million would show the developer that the city supports the housing and is willing to help fund the project, Assistant City Manager Rosanna Bayon Moore said.

“There’s a lot of different scenarios that could be proposed,” she said.

Among the housing possibilities are establishing long-term leases for interim housing or constructing permanent supportive housing, working in cooperation with the Contra Costa County Housing Authority to offset operational expenses with project-based vouchers, Bayon Moore said.

The city did not initially seek out Project Homekey funding, choosing earlier this year to instead fully lease the Executive Inn on 18th Street, using it to provide bridge housing and wraparound services for some of the city’s unhoused. Antioch later tried to purchase the motel, but could not reach a deal with the owner. The city has a two-year lease with the motel and options to extend it twice for two-year terms.

Unable to buy the motel, the City Council directed staff to consider other private land or city-owned parcels where housing for homeless residents could be built with the help of Homekey funds.

The staff has come up with a list of seven city-owned parcels in north and western Antioch as possible sites for homeless housing.

But not everyone was happy with the proposal’s $6 million price tag.

“We’re spending a lot of money; this council is going through a lot of money,” Antioch Vice Mayor Mike Barbanica said. “We’re opening new departments, we just spent $2.5 million on the Executive Inn, we have a commitment to Motel 6 … that I understand is a much more cost-effective way to go.”

Barbanica was referring to the county-run former Pittsburg Motel 6 that provides transitional housing for the homeless from throughout East Contra Costa County, including some Antioch residents.

“We’re not funding things like the pool at the water park, which is a safety issue. … We don’t have an emergency operation center that is up-to-date. … I do not support this.”

Councilwoman Lori Ogorchock, however, reminded council members that the city pledged $1 million during a recession to help build Tabora Gardens, an affordable housing project for senior apartments.

“I understand what you’re saying and agree with you 110%,” she told Barbanica. “But if we can use ARPA funds with Homekey, then I think it’s a doable project.”

Orgorchock added that “there’s a lot of money coming forth” from the state, so “it doesn’t hurt to start the process.”

Mayor Lamar Thorpe said the developer might fund more of the cost and the city might not have to use all of a $6 million pledge.

The city still has more than $4 million in American Rescue Plan funds, and according to the assistant city manager, the Executive Inn project will cost some $800,010 less than the $5.7 million originally allocated from ARPA funds.

Thorpe also reminded council members the quest to build homeless housing began several years earlier with numerous advocates who said the homeless people had nowhere to go in East Contra Costa. The goal was to get people off the city’s streets and out of encampments and eventually into more permanent housing.

“People can sit and criticize our Executive Inn efforts, but that’s the only thing we control,” he said, noting other homeless housing not run by the city likely will be open to anyone, not just Antioch residents.

Resident and homeless advocate Andrew Becker applauded the Homekey program, noting that with the help of the state’s dollars, the city can create housing that will last beyond what the Executive Inn’s transitional housing will offer.

“This is an opportunity for developers to create unique, lasting projects,” he said. “And I’ve spoken with developers, and they are eager and open to bring in solutions out here to East County — unique, lasting solutions that address our chronic homeless.”

Barbancia asked if the city could reduce its contribution to $2 million of Rescue Plan monies.

Jeree Glasser-Hedrick of Focus Strategies, who consulted on homeless housing for Antioch, said that while possible, the city’s investment helps leverage its position for both the state grant and attracting developers. A smaller commitment could have a negative effect.

“I think what you will find is that the proposals that you receive (from developers) are smaller than what would come in if you would have provided a larger commitment,” she said.

Even so, Ogorchock said she still thought $2 million “was a good start” for the city. The council approved the pledge amount on a 3-0 vote, with Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker and Monica Wilson absent.

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