Supes direct staff to move forward with two supportive housing projects

If everything goes according to plan, the Travel Inn on Main Street near Lassen High School, could provide about 40 housing units for the homeless. Photo submitted

Facing rapidly approaching deadlines to apply for funding, the Lassen County Board of Supervisors unanimously directed county staff to move forward with two proposed Homekey projects.

According to an item on the May 23 Board of Supervisors agenda, the California Department of Housing and Community Development published a Notice of Funding Availability for the Round 3 Homekey Program.

According to that agenda packet item, ” The Homekey Program is an opportunity for public entities to develop a broad range of housing types, including but not limited to the quick conversion of motels to permanent housing. Housing developed through the Homekey Program must be for individuals and families experiencing homelessness or who are at risk of homelessness and who are inherently impacted by or at increased risk for medical diseases or conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other communicable diseases.”

The supervisors directed staff to put out a Request for Proposals, and the county received two qualifying proposals from CoWest Investments and Danco Communities.

Grace Poor, Housing Program Manager for Lassen County’s Health and Human Services presented information for the board of supervisors at its Tuesday, July 11 meeting.

She said the Homekey Program is designed to, among other things, provide funding to convert existing facilities into permanent housing.

“CoWest Investments is proposing a Homekey project that would convert a former walk-in medical clinic into 10 units with a potential focus on homeless youth … “

Poor said CoWest has experience rehabbing older buildings and has in-depth knowledge of Lassen County. That property is located on Hospital Lane, and could eventually be expanded to as many as 30 or 40 units in the future, and possibly provide housing for Lassen Community College students as well.

She said Danco Communities proposes a Homekey Project that would convert a local motel into 30 or 40 units. She said Danco Communities has extensive experience developing permanent supportive housing and Homekey Projects.

“We think both of these projects would benefit the community,” Poor said. “We’re hoping to get the board’s approval to move forward with applying to the state for funding for both projects.”

Poor said she didn’t know what state funding would still be available for these projects, but she’s heard money is available for projects in rural areas. She said the bidding process is competitive.

District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram asked how Megan’s Law would affect the projects.

“The law does allow for background checks to screen out certain types of offenses, including high level sex offenses,” Poor said.

Melanie Westbrook, co-manager of CoWest Investments, said her company’s is in escrow to purchase the property at 560 Hospital Lane for 18 to 24 year olds. She said the phased project would begin with 10 units, and the next phase would be to provide off-campus housing for Lassen Community College students. She said there would not be an on-site manager initially, and the project could grow to “an easy 40” units in the main building and maybe more in the future.

She said she’s spoken to an official at LCC who told her there are homeless college students living by the river, so there is a definite need.

She said the CoWest plan is for 650 to 700 square foot, one-bedroom apartments in a facility above Diamond View School.

Chris Dart, of Danco Communities, said his company is talking with the owner of the 40-unit Travel Inn Motel on Main Street. He said the owner also owns vacant piece of property adjacent to the motel that could be developed into more units in the future.

“We haven’t put the deal together, depending upon how this goes, we’re going to do that today,” Dart said. “But we preliminarily have an agreement on that depending upon how this goes.”

Danco’s plan includes converting a couple of the units into a community space, and plans are to upgrade the units into kitchenettes. This would be the sixth project of its kind for Danco.

District 1 Supervisor Gary Bridges asked County Administrative Officer Richard Egan if there were issues with a county project within the Susanville city limits, and Egan said no because the city is within the county’s jurisdiction.

Dart said the funding comes from the county, and the permitting would be handled by the city. He said this facility would be available to people of all ages.

Bridges told Dart he “wasn’t comfortable” with such a facility right across from the hospital, but Dart said his company would actively manage the property, fence it and keep track of who comes and goes.

Poor said there already is a population living at the Travel Inn that the county has no control over.

Ingram said his family stayed at the motel during a recent fire and the facility was terrible.

He asked which district these projects were in because he wanted to hear that supervisor’s opinion of the proposed projects before he gave direction to staff. The Travel Inn is in District 2, represented by Bridges, but no one knew which supervisor represents the hospital property.

Bridges said, “I’m on the Behavorial Health Board, and there’s a huge need for this. This won’t fill the need, but it will sure work towards it.”

The board directed staff to submit funding applications for both projects. Poor said staff would bring back resolutions to the board’s meeting on July 25 with information about the dollar amounts sought, and the application deadline is July 28.

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If everything goes according to plan, the Travel Inn on Main Street near Lassen High School, could provide about 40 housing units for the homeless.