Modern glass building, 4 stories
Oakland has six “Homekey” projects so far, including this senior and family housing in Rockridge, and is waiting to hear back from the state on five new projects. Credit: Pete Rosos

A youth shelter downtown and housing in a deep East Oakland hotel are among five projects the city is asking the state of California to fund to expand supportive options for homeless people transitioning off the streets.

While Oakland awaits decisions on these applications, submitted to the state’s “Homekey” program, the city is also starting its own supportive housing program to fund more projects that can address the homelessness crisis.

The state launched its Homekey program during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic to rapidly house a growing and medically vulnerable homeless population. The program helps local governments acquire existing hotels and apartment buildings and convert them into permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless residents.

The state is poised to announce recipients of the third round of Homekey funds—$736 million in total, supported by COVID-19 relief funds and general state dollars.

Oakland is seeking funds for five projects this round. The city applied on behalf of local organizations that will use the money to buy the buildings and operate the housing. For most of the projects, the city will need to contribute additional funding—a total of $35 million if all projects are awarded.

“We have not heard back from the state on any awards, but we expect to any day now,” said Oakland housing staffer Xochitl Ortiz, at a Tuesday meeting of a City Council committee.

Included in this batch is a proposal from MPI and Bay Area Community Services to convert the 47-unit Imperial Inn on West MacArthur Boulevard into housing for chronically homeless residents, including people with special needs. DignityMoves and Housing Consortium of the East Bay also want to build a new 40-unit modular housing site on a vacant lot on Edes Avenue and Santa Clara Street. 

Danco and Operation Dignity are proposing converting the 40-unit Maya Motel on Telegraph Avenue in Temescal into supportive housing. Additionally, California Supportive Housing Enterprise and Shelter, Inc. aim to turn a hotel on Edes into 103 housing units.

Finally, Kingdom Builders Christian Fellowship also submitted an application to convert a 57-unit building on 14th Street into interim housing for people transitioning back into the community from prison or jail as well as homeless youth. This project is the only transitional housing proposal in the bunch, while the others are all permanent housing. The same organization previously received Homekey funds for a similar program on International Boulevard. 

Since the state launched its Homekey program, Oakland has received funds for six projects, totaling 204 units. These active sites include former motels and single-family homes, all turned into supportive housing, plus a dormitory converted into senior and family housing. A seventh project was funded but fell through, so the state took the money back.

Alameda County also got Homekey money to buy hotels in Oakland. 

While several projects were successfully funded, Oakland may have missed out on awards for additional projects. In a previous round, Oakland met the state’s deadline, but applications were awarded on a rolling basis and Bay Area-specific funds had already been doled out, staff said. In response, the city changed its submission process so staff can vet and submit applications to the state before getting approval from the City Council. The city was permitted by the council to apply for up to $200 million in Homekey awards this round.

City staff is now asking the council for retroactive approval on the five projects.

On Tuesday, the Community and Economic Development Committee voted to send the decision on to the full council on Nov. 7.

“I’m very excited about the Maya Motel—I hope that makes it,” said Councilmember Dan Kalb, who represents Temescal.

Fund could establish “pipeline” of supportive housing projects

The committee also gave city staff a green light to create a new system to support future homeless housing projects.

In Oakland’s 2023-2025 budget passed in June, the City Council allocated $8.8 million to rapidly house homeless residents. The budget didn’t spell out how the program would operate.

City staff is proposing Oakland launch an online platform where developers and other organizations can submit early proposals for supportive housing, on a rolling basis and any stage of the concept. Staff would complete an initial review to ensure the proposal meets certain criteria, then request a complete application.

The proposals received through this process could turn into applications for an expected fourth round of Homekey funds—or build a “pipeline” of projects ready to pounce on future funding opportunities, staff said.

The money connected to this program would serve as the “local match” dollars the city is typically required to contribute to state and federal awards. Staff is proposing beefing up the fund with revenue from the Measure U infrastructure bond.

Housing staff Maryann Leshin said a goal of the program is to “increase the ecosystem of developers” receiving public support in Oakland.

“What we found with Homekey…is the developers seeking to engage in this work were not the usual suspects,” she said at Tuesday’s meeting, referring to the nonprofits that most often create and manage subsidized housing and shelters. “We think that’s a great thing.”

The proposal for the new rapid rehousing fund will come to council on Nov. 7 along with the Homekey projects.

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 lives in Oakland, grew up in Berkeley, and has only left her beloved East Bay once, to attend Pomona College.