When Santa Clara County secured $29.2 million from the state last month to convert a Milpitas motel into permanent housing for the homeless, Mayor Rich Tran was shocked and elated at the speed they’d be getting people off the streets.
But two weeks later, Tran has pivoted his position.
He now wants to sue the state over the project.
The nearly $30 million that was awarded to the county is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project HomeKey program, which aims to house medically vulnerable homeless individuals amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The California Department of Housing and Community Development plans to allocate $550 million this year to help cities and counties renovate motels, hotels and vacant apartments to house homeless residents.
In Milpitas, the funds will go to rehabilitating the 146-room Extended Stay America at 1000 Hillview Ct. into 132 apartments. The motel will be renovated by developer Jamboree Housing Corp. and formerly homeless residents will receive supportive services to help them get back on their feet.
But since the announcement, Milpitas residents have pushed back.
A Change.org petition, titled “Public Input Needed on Project HomeKey in Milpitas,” has gathered more than 1,300 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
“This project is being imposed on the people of Milpitas without their input and without public participation,” wrote Suraj Viswanathan, who started the petition. “A project of this size requires full transparency on the part of elected officials. It requires public hearings and the full involvement of local residents who will be impacted by this project.”
Viswanathan goes on to say that while he “sympathize[s] with the needs of our homeless brothers and sisters,” he has “grave concerns” about the impact the project will have on nearby neighborhoods.
Tran seems to have taken those words to heart.
At Tuesday’s Milpitas City Council meeting, Tran asked his colleagues and City Attorney Chris Diaz to consider suing the state of California and all parties involved in Project HomeKey over not giving Milpitas its due process.
Tran told San Jose Inside that he originally thought the money would be handed over to the city, which would then gather community input and go through the usual process under the California Environmental Quality Act.
“My primary concern is the freedom for our residents to have participation, input [and] engagement,” Tran said. “Our residents don’t have the opportunity to take part in this major project. That’s really the alarming part for a lot of residents who’ve called Milpitas home their entire lives.”
The mayor added that while he’s supportive of getting people off the streets, he wants to do it the right way—meaning all residents get a say.
But Ray Bramson, the chief operating officer at Destination: Home, said Project HomeKey poses a unique opportunity to house people sooner instead of later.
“I think the point of the state legislation is that there is a serious crisis on our streets right now and that there are thousands and thousands of people suffering without a home,” he said. “The goal was to accelerate housing.”
Consuelo Hernandez, the acting director of the county’s office of supportive housing, said that it typically takes five years from obtaining a property to actually house people.
“This is very accelerated, but it’s because of the way the direction has come down from the state,” she said. “We shared that with the mayor and the council. It’s drive by the resource so the resource dictates the pace.”