An old dorm building in Rockridge is slated to become supportive housing, thanks to a state grant that's also supporting the conversion of 20 single-family homes. Credit: Pete Rosos

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The city of Oakland will receive $20 million in state emergency funds to turn a dormitory building and several single-family homes into 163 units of housing for homeless people. 

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the latest round of awards from the state’s $600 million “Homekey” program, which helps cities turn existing buildings into supportive housing during and beyond the pandemic. 

“These funding awards mark another important milestone in our goal to preserve, produce, and protect housing for Oakland residents,” said Housing Director Shola Olatoye in a statement.

Oakland was told Tuesday that two additional Homekey applications the city submitted—to turn an SRO and a hotel into housing for formerly incarcerated residents and veterans—have been put on a waitlist and could eventually receive funding, said spokesperson Autumn King.

Half of Oakland’s $20 million award will allow the city to purchase Clifton Hall, a former California College of the Arts dorm at 5276 Broadway in Rockridge. The building has 63 units, 42 of which will become permanent housing for seniors who are at greater risk from COVID-19. The city plans to prioritize current residents of Project Roomkey hotels, the county’s temporary coronavirus shelters. Oakland will lease the property to Satellite Affordable Housing Associates to run the senior housing. 

An existing family shelter in Emeryville, run by the East Oakland Community Project, will move into the other 21 units at Clifton Hall. Family Front Door, an organization that refers families to homeless services and shelters, will get office space in the building, too. 

City Councilmember Dan Kalb, who helped forge the deal between Oakland and the college, said he was “thrilled” to hear about the Homekey award Monday, but was not surprised that the project appealed to the state. Clifton Hall is under 20 years old and barely needs any renovations, he said. 

“This is an opportunity to help likely over 100 family members and seniors get some real assistance and get off the street,” Kalb said. 

Oakland is contributing $5.4 million to the project, a requirement of the Homekey program. Those funds will come from Measure Q, Oakland’s tax for parks and homeless services, and other sources.

The other $10 million from the Homekey grant will go to Bay Area Community Services, or BACS, a nonprofit that’s buying up to 20 single-family homes around East Oakland to turn into affordable housing. Five people will be selected to live together in each house, paying around $500 each in rent, said BACS CEO Jamie Almanza. 

BACS ran a number of these “co-living” homes in the 1980s and 1990s, and began embracing the model again in recent years as the Bay Area homeless population has exploded, Almanza said. She approached Oakland about applying for Homekey funds to purchase 20 new houses, but expected the concept might be too “radical” for a state program mainly designed to convert hotels and motels into big affordable housing complexes. At BACS’ houses, residents live on their own in private bedrooms with doors they can lock. Neighbors often have no idea they’re living next to a house of formerly homeless people, giving tenants more privacy than people living in big shelters, Almanza said. 

BACS buys single-family homes like this one and converts them into affordable co-ops. Credit: Courtesy BACS

“I walk into these homes and they’re homes,” she said. “People love living here because they’re kin with each other. Many don’t have relationships with family, or they’ve lost loved ones.” 

BACS manages these properties and has a caseworker connect residents to social and medical services as needed. The organization has already purchased seven of the 20 houses it’s eyeing. Even though the rents are far below market-rate, they cover the ongoing operating costs of the properties, Almanza said. 

Funding the Clifton Hall programs in the long-run may prove harder.

“The challenge for all this stuff is getting dedicated sources of funding,” said Kalb, who said the city will find a way to work the programs into its regular budget process. 

Tenant rents from the senior housing at Clifton Hall will contribute to the operating costs there, the city said. The state is also offering some operational grants for Homekey projects, if cities commit to contributing to the cost. 

Over the summer, Oakland applied for a total of $36.6 million from the state program, hoping to give the additional awards to nonprofits to purchase the Hotel Travelers at 392 11th St., and the Inn at Temescal at 3720 Telegraph Ave. Some of the funds would go to Oakland & The World, with developers Memar Properties and McCormack Baron Salazar, to turn the Hotel Travelers into housing for people just released from prison. Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency would run that program. Operation Dignity and developer Danco would use the rest to buy the Inn at Temescal for veteran housing. 

King, the city spokesperson, said the state told Oakland on Tuesday that those projects meet the Homekey “threshold” and may get funding in the near future. 

Several other Bay Area cities and counties, from Contra Costa to Santa Clara, have benefited from Homekey already, too. In a press conference Monday, Newsom said that the projects the state has funded so far have cost less per unit than initially estimated. The Homekey funds can be stretched further than the state expected, he said, but they still fall short of the total amount requested by local governments.

This latest round included a grant for the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians in Sonoma County, the first such award the state has given to a tribe, Newsom said.

Even though Oakland got grants for two projects, and the City Council unanimously approved the proposals in August, the city still has to meet strict conditions before the Clifton and BACS proposals are done-deals. While the projects are designed to survive long past the pandemic, Homekey funds are meant to provide emergency coronavirus relief initially. Recipients must spend their grants by Dec. 30—closing sales on buildings by the end of the year—and fill at least half the rooms within the next three months. 

King said both Clifton Hall and the BACS houses require “minimal work” before tenants can move in, so Oakland is confident it can meet the state’s deadlines. 

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Natalie Orenstein covers housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously on staff at Berkeleyside, where her extensive reporting on the legacy of school desegregation received recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists NorCal and the Education Writers Association. Natalie’s reporting has also appeared in The J Weekly, The San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere, and she’s written about public policy for a number of research institutes and think tanks. Natalie grew up in Berkeley and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.