County moves to purchase properties for homeless

11/11/2020

Facing a crunched timeline, the Marin County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved the purchase of two buildings that will be occupied by homeless residents, despite mixed feelings from neighbors. The two properties—an office building in San Rafael and a motel in Corte Madera—will cost $7.2 million and $4.1 million respectively, and provide a total of 62 housing units. The sites will be used for interim housing for single adults in the short term and converted to permanent supportive housing by 2022. West Marin’s unhoused population will be eligible, with priority given to the most vulnerable residents. Last year, social workers counted 140 people experiencing homelessness in West Marin, and 1,034 countywide. Economic hardship is the leading cause of homelessness in Marin. About two-thirds of the funding comes from the state’s Project Homekey, which is disbursing $600 million in federal CARES Act funds for cities and counties to purchase housing for the homeless. The catch? All purchases must be completed by the end of the year, or the state will forfeit the funds. The project is expensive and comes with ongoing costs, but Ashley Hart McIntyre, Marin’s homelessness policy analyst, says the cost of not housing these residents would be far greater. The properties will cost between $150,000 and $250,000 per unit, well below the average cost of $500,000 to $600,000 for a brand-new unit of affordable housing, she said. And by housing vulnerable residents, the county will save money on emergency response, medical resources and safety net services. Ongoing funding will come from federal housing vouchers and tenant rent, and Health and Human Services and its partners will provide on-site support. The state told Marin in September that it would receive funding as long as the purchase was finalized by the end of the year, leaving limited time for public engagement. Callers to the Board of Supervisors criticized the hasty approach, asking for a slower, more transparent process and improved community outreach. But planners and homeless advocates say an ambitious timeline is necessary to respond to the public health crisis. The acquisitions reflect Marin’s housing-first approach to ending homelessness, which centers on quickly moving residents into independent and permanent housing and then providing additional supports and services as needed. After approving the two purchases, the board met in closed session and decided to withdraw attempts to purchase a third property, a 70-room inn in Novato that would’ve housed homeless families. The board said it could not reach an agreement with the property owners, who were seeking $18 million.