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.
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.