Milpitas City Council Asks Santa Clara County to Withdraw Plans for Homeless Housing Project

It’s been less than a month since Santa Clara County secured $29.2 million from the state to convert a motel in Milpitas into permanent housing for the homeless.

But city leaders want the county to withdraw the project over what they say is a lack of transparency and a hasty timeline.

The funds to rehabilitate the 146-room Extended Stay America into 132 apartments came from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project HomeKey program.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development is expected to allocate $550 million this year to counties and cities to renovate hotels, motels and vacant apartments to house homeless residents amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

When the announcement was made last month, Milpitas city leaders sang their praises over the project. Mayor Rich Tran was elated over the speed of the funding, while Vice Mayor Bob Nuñez said the project would help the city make “significant headway in our fight to end homelessness.”

But since then, the Milpitas City Council has had a change of heart that culminated in a unanimous vote Thursday to ask the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and County Executive Jeff Smith to halt the project and find a different location.

Over the last few weeks, concern over the project—which will be located at 1000 Hillview Court—has grown among residents.

A Change.org petition started by City Council candidate Suraj Viswanathan has gathered more than 2,700 signatures and outlines the issues residents have about the project, including a lack of transparency, the impact on neighborhoods and homeless Milpitas families not receiving priority to be housed.

Some of those sentiments also resonated with the council. The root of some of their qualms has stemmed from the fact that the development of the project and the placement of residents will be controlled by the county.

Another crucial part of Project HomeKey that Tran has taken issue with is that it operates on an accelerated time frame to get people housed as soon as possible. That means projects bypass the typical lengthy review that can sometimes take years.

During Thursday’s meeting, Tran pushed Consuelo Hernandez, the acting director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, multiple times on whether people with severe mental illnesses, such as psychosis or personality disorders, would be allowed to live at the renovated apartment complex.

Hernandez responded saying that they serve “a range of populations,” which includes people with mental illnesses.

Tran called her comments “alarming” and said he was concerned about the “safety of the community and the city as a whole,” as well as those living in the apartments.

“Mental health is an issue ... and if our officers show up at that possibly frequent level for service calls I have great concerns about our police officers showing up knowing that the 911 call may be due to a person with mental health issues,” he said.

Tran also noted that the Extended Stay America is next to a liquor store. After the meeting, he took to Facebook to say, “The proposed homeless housing project is right across the street from the biggest liquor store in Milpitas—BevMo! No disrespect.”

The proposed homeless housing project is right across the street from the biggest liquor store in Milpitas — BevMo!. No disrespect.

Posted by Mayor Rich Tran on Thursday, October 15, 2020

Councilman Anthony Phan criticized Tran for his remarks on mental illness.

“I would like to ask my colleagues and the community to really be considerate when speaking about people with mental health needs,” Phan said. “This is something that’s really personal for me and whatever your views may be on this project, whether you support it or oppose it, I just ask for us to treat people with dignity and respect when we’re referring to individuals.”

Phan shared that he has ADHD, anxiety and depression and was temporarily homeless when he was in college.

“My diagnosis had very little to do with that,” he said.

Councilwoman Carmen Montano echoed the voices of Milpitas residents who are worried about the impact the project will have on their homes.

“We need to help our homeless, but the question is how do we do it without infringing on the rights of our homeowners,” she said. "We need to do a better job. I think the county needs to go back to the drawing board.”

She also took issue with the fact that Milpitas’ homeless families won’t be prioritized.

“I think that’s where there’s a miscommunication with the county because I don’t even think other cities know that it’s not just their city residents, it’s the whole county,” she said. “I think we have a few homeless and then we have students that are homeless but yet these units are not for students so I have a problem with that.”

Milpitas is also considering litigation against the state of California and all other parties involved over the city’s lack of control over the project.

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

15 Comments

  1. >” We need to help our homeless, but the question is how do we do it without infringing on the rights of our homeowners,” she said.

    What rights is she talking about? Since when do people have the right to decide what other people do with their property?

    This is such an offensive joke. I appreciate Phan’s comments on mental illness – even if his claim that he was homeless is at odds with his previous claim that he had accumulated $40k in business investments at the age of 22 – but the words are pretty empty considering the fact that he joined his colleagues in this decision. These are the sorts of people that should not be public officials; you have to know when to stand up for what is right against public pressure.

  2. We do not need to waste money on prime location $205k per room. Go to Fresno, you can pick up motel at $20k/room. If they have to get interview to get a job, they can be bussed to the city for days or weeks. This is a stupid way to resolve homeless issue using my tax dollars.

  3. This facility started with a price tag of $29 million, then requested an additional amount adding up to $80 million. Some estimates are predicting this project could be ~$120 million total. Governor Newsom already took hundreds of millions away from the first federal COVID-19 Stimulus fund for Project Homekey. The fact that more money is being requested for this site means that Newsom is already planning on taking more money away from the next stimulus bill coming to California. He passed AB83 to bypass local zoning and laws to speed up this process. We’re all for helping the homeless, but a project of this cost and magnitude should be planned out better alongside heavy community engagement if it even has a slightest chance of working.

    Back in June the City of San Jose built, opened & shut down a homeless trailer park in one month and wasted a lot of money in the process. This was because of gross mishandling and mismanagement. The speediness to get this particular facility up will probably will call for more of the same to happen.

  4. I could solve the homeless problem almost overnight and for a heck of a lot less money. The solution won’t be a pleasant one but it is one that most people who aren’t homeless really want even though they can’t come out and say it.

    Hint: Out of sight, out of mind

  5. Thank you, Ms. Hase, for bringing this deeply troubling response to the Turn Key program to light. I’m an educator and school leader in San Josè and, unfortunately, these types of conversations are not new in America or globally.

    I would love to talk to teachers and school administrators in Milpitas to get a pulse check on the status of student mental health in their community. Remember, mental illness, substance abuse, and child abuse know no socioeconomic boundaries. When we talk about mental health in such a way that folks are stigmatized, we are sending a message to our children that mental illness is bad and caused by drugs and alcohol. We send a message that seeking help is a weakness. I’ve seen enough young folks self harm and be admitted into a 51/50 hold to know that mental illness is not a failure of character or courage. In fact, many young people from all walks of life turn to substances that exacerbate mental health issues because they are seeking reprieve and self-medicating.

    I’d love to see your next round of reporting spotlighting the stories of unhoused folks because some of our neighbors just haven’t had the opportunity to have those conversations with others in their community who are unhoused or housing insecure. As I say to my students, two things can be true and valid at the same time. It can be true unhoused and struggling with a mental illness need a place to live that will require resources AND Milpitas and other communities can be afraid of the impact. Given those truths, when we start to have nuanced conversations rooted in humanity, we can move forward as a community. Blanket statements blaming folks we don’t know for problems we don’t personally understand is just the type of division that I hope we can overcome as a community and country. Our children are watching. On that note, for the moderator, the comment from HOAPRES is quite threatening. I insinuated from their comment that this HOA president is threatening violence towards the unhoused and that makes me deeply uncomfortable. Could this be a violation of the moderator guidelines? Which, brings up the point that the unhoused with mental illnesses are more likely to be a victim of a violent crime due to their vulnerability. I hope that this individual reflects on how that comment landed and if that is truly what they want to demonstrate. Putting my teacher hat on… I tell my students, “don’t put anything in writing that you don’t want on the cover of the New York Times.”

    I’m looking forward to following this story and to see what the community of Milpitas stands for. I hope the youth voice jumps in- I have so much faith in this generation’s focus on justice and that is what keeps me optimistic.

    Be well.

  6. CA officials, despite the law, have decided that the Community Care Licensing Act doesn’t apply to homeless shelters, homeless assisted living, transitional housing and similar. The state is not enforcing their own rules for homeless housing and services. The rationale is they can’t afford to enforce it and concentrate on nursing homes and other non-homeless facilities instead.

    Zero enforcement has propelled homeless profiteers like Abode and their enablers like Health Trust / Destination Home. Virtually no oversight, outcome reporting or sound management. Example: violence and the shooting at Donner Lofts is just one of many incidents that SJPD chief reported in a public meeting.

    The Salvation Army and Catholic Charities operate well managed programs. Unfortunately, they are rare exceptions. Perhaps because their salaries are modest compared to the princely $220K-$340K compensation packages of two leading homeless organizations.

    Why are we seeing such poor outcomes v. rehabilitation at the Milpitas poor farm (now Elmwood jail)? Milpitas is quite right to insist on proper management for a vulnerable population.

  7. Marcellus Wallace to Milpitas homeless: You gone or be gone. Your Milpitas privileges are revoked. Just give the homeless to San Jose.

    San Jose

    The slum of Silicon Valley

  8. Bob Nuñez supported this conversion of a hotel to a homeless shelter. He complimented City Manager Steve McHarris for a job well done when McHarris recommended the homeless housing conversion. McHarris doesn’t even live here so what does he care? Look at the previous SJI article. Now corrupt Nuñez pretends he is against it because he wants your vote. Time for Milpitas to dump this phony. He has accomplished one positive thing for us residents of Milpitas. Vote no for Nuñez.

  9. “During Thursday’s meeting, Tran pushed Consuelo Hernandez, the acting director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing, multiple times on whether people with severe mental illnesses, such as psychosis or personality disorders, would be allowed to live at the renovated apartment complex.

    Hernandez responded saying that they serve “a range of populations,” which includes people with mental illnesses.”

    The answer is, yes! They will house people with severe mental illness and substance abuse problems in the hotel. I do not understand why the County can’t be straight forward about the issue because it goes back to the aspects of their plan that just are not working well. The County has to stop housing people with severe mental illness and substance abuse issues in housing that does not have treatment associated with the housing opportunity – the Housing First model is not working to address the root causes of homelessness. And, people with severe housing barriers, especially those with severe mental health issues, NEED a treatment program, not a key to an apartment and a case manager that may check-in 3-times a year.

    Also, the NIMBY’s are ridiculous and so is the City Council in Milpitas. I am sure the City team and County have discussed this project several times – and now the politicians want to act confused…it’s just poor leadership. Everyone opposes housing for the formerly homeless near them, and that is why very little gets built. Do what San Francisco does – and just ignore the NIMBY’s. I know 5-people can swing an election in Milpitas – but if this Council can’t get a project going that is high priority – then they should get a new job.

    https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/New-national-homeless-plan-cracks-down-on-15656168.php

  10. Dear Mayor Tran and our esteemed Milpitas City Council Members:

    I am disappointed and deeply saddened by your decision to block an affordable housing site in our town. This is not about one city doing what is right. This is about all cities working collectively with the County of Santa Clara to do what they can and what is right for our unhoused neighbors. Unfortunately, we are given the opportunity one decision at a time.

    For those of you who are not familiar with us HomeFirst Services is the largest operator/provider of homelessness services in the County. We provide a continuum of care from Outreach Services, Emergency Shelter, Supportive Services, Veterans Services, Transitional and Permanent Affordable Housing. We currently have nine locations Countywide (soon to be 11) and serve over 6,000 individuals and families a year. We are on the cutting edge of innovation with our Bridge Housing Communities and Emergency Interim Housing sites and our creative Outreach teams offering deep services with case management, mental health and substance abuse treatment in encampments.

    After reading the article in Spotlight and hearing about the decision you made last week I wanted to provide you with some vital information. I understand that the City wanted complete control of the referral process, but as the funder and contract manager the County is responsible for managing all referrals to all shelter and housing across the board at almost all the shelters and housing developments in the County. This allows us to collectively track the number of unhoused people and provide critical care and services to those more likely to die on the streets. This process has been very effective in placing over 2,000 people since the pandemic began in mid-March. Yes, it is disappointing that not all of Milpitas’ unhoused neighbors would receive a home in the property in question but some would have been housed. This decision denies those who needed a safe and dignified home.

    Further to note, were the comments on people struggling with mental health and substance abuse challenges, comments that reinforce the stigma in our communities regarding those impacted by homelessness. Many of the people already housed in our community are dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues yet are able to stay successfully housed. Most people do not even know that they are struggling because they have a door to lock at the end of the day, to shower and wash their clothes, to receive treatment and to care for themselves with privacy and dignity. The research is clear that the Housing First evidence-based model works. First we house people and then with the right supports those folks stay housed with many getting better over time and reaching a place where they are able to be productive members of society. This vote blocked that opportunity for people and underscored the damaging attitude of seeing those with such challenges as “the other”.
    Also a critical point is, by leveraging this unique State funding, this project reduces the amount of local tax dollars that must be invested into this project (including zero funding from the City of Milpitas). This project is far less cheaper than starting from scratch or utilizing a property that needed much more work making it a fiscally responsible project.
    And finally, there is much research on the impact of homelessness and homelessness services on communities. Housing such as the proposed project do not decrease property values or increase crime. If anything they take the people off of the streets and put them right where they need to be in safe dignified housing making our communities healthier, cleaner and safer. Take a look at the Veterans HomeFirst has housed. After a year 83% of them are still successfully housed. This is proof that it can be done and done well.

    Please know that HomeFirst is here as a resource and always available to answer questions, provide support and the research on best practices, to find solutions that work for everyone in our community and to participate in community discussions.

    In Partnership,
    Andrea K. Urton, LMFT
    She/Her/Hers
    Chief Executive Officer
    HomeFirst Services of Santa Clara County
    507 Valley Way, Milpitas, CA 95035
    http://www.Homefirstscc.org
    Visit us on Facebook: HomeFirst Services

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