Homekey is the next phase in the state’s response to protecting Californians experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness and are impacted by COVID-19. The Homekey program is an opportunity to increase the supply of permanent housing available to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. The State is providing grants funds to counties to purchase and or rehabilitate properties to be used as interim and permanent housing.
Homekey properties are for people who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.
For interim housing, people will be referred by an agency that is working with the client, including Adopt A Family, St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin, Ritter Center, Marin County Health & Human Services, and others.
For permanent supportive housing, people will be referred through the Coordinated Entry Program[PDF] , which will prioritize the people who are most vulnerable. During the pandemic, the people who are: “most vulnerable” are defined as those who are:
- Have long histories of homelessness, and have specific vulnerabilities to COVID, such as seniors, people who are immunocompromised, and people with lung, kidney, liver, or heart disease.
The 2019 Point-in-Time Count found 1,034 people experiencing homelessness in Marin. In San Rafael there were 161 people who were unsheltered; 147 in Novato; and 39 in Corte Madera.
Permanent supportive housing units are assigned to the most vulnerable people appropriate for the placement. While it is not legal to limit these units to only people who live in those cities or in Marin, virtually all of the people who have been placed in permanent supportive housing in Marin so far have had long periods of homelessness in Marin and most were living in Marin when they lost their housing. Many were raised here.
Across the nine Bay Area counties, studies consistently show that 70-85% of the people experiencing homelessness in a given county were living in that county when they lost their housing. In Marin, we have embraced a strategy called “diversion,” which includes assisting people who have roots and connections elsewhere to regain stable housing in a community where they have more support.
Converting motels into housing for people experiencing homelessness has been a very successful practice in other communities, creating new housing in a fraction of the time that new construction takes. The Palms Inn in Santa Rosa is an example of a successful motel conversion, housing 120 homeless people since 2015. Many other California counties are doing similar conversions under Project Homekey.
Ending homelessness requires creating new housing opportunities for people experiencing homelessness throughout the County. The Homekey properties join several other projects that have opened recently or are opening in the near future that include units for people experiencing homelessness, including:
- King Street Senior Housing in Larkspur
- Victory Village in Fairfax
- The Mill Street redevelopment in San Rafael
- The Safe Harbor program in Sausalito
During the interim housing phase, the properties will be staffed 24/7 and residents will be provided with two meals each day, in addition to housing-focused case management, housing location services, and connection to behavioral health services and social services benefits including Medi-Cal and Social Security. For services that are not provided on-site, residents will have access to bus or taxi vouchers as appropriate.
Once the properties transition to permanent housing, the services will depend on the needs of the clients. All permanent supportive housing includes case management designed to keep people in their housing. This case management must remain flexible to meet the needs of the clients and will continue to connect clients to other services as needed, including assisting them with transportation. Property managers will ensure that the facilities, including the grounds, are kept clean and in good repair.
All properties are located within walking distance of a bus stop. Participants will be provided with bus or taxi vouchers, as appropriate, for necessary transportation such as to and from doctor’s appointments or job interviews.
The people we serve tell us that their top concern is also safety! So that is a priority shared by all parties. Our programs operate on a behavioral basis; people are required to behave in a fashion that keeps other residents and neighbors safe. Many studies demonstrate that providing safe, stable housing indoors significantly reduces these issues, and is an important first step in accessing treatment. Very commonly, unsheltered homelessness seriously exacerbates mental health and substance use issues. Studies have also repeatedly shown that permanent supportive housing projects do not increase crime rates.
The providers we are working with have extensive experience with this population and with both of the program models we’re discussing, and very rarely do safety issues come up. When they do, providers are trained to respond quickly, de-escalate any dangerous situation, and make necessary changes to ensure that the situation does not recur.
To respond to the concerns expressed by nearby residents, all properties will have security on site. We do work closely with law enforcement partners across the county and are committed to keeping residents and neighbors safe.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development defines “affordable housing” as not spending more than 30% of household income on housing expenses. For people who will live in these units, this is not free housing. They will contribute 30% of their income toward rent, and then a subsidy (in this case, federal housing vouchers) will cover the difference between the tenant’s contribution and market rate rent. These housing vouchers will be tied to the units in these sites indefinitely. Additionally, there is no expectation that people need to move out of these units. Our experience is that people find long-term stability in permanent housing and work to integrate themselves into the broader community.
All three sites have undergone an accessibility determination and are fully in compliance with state and federal compliance.
The vast majority of studies have found that affordable housing does not depress neighboring property values and may even raise them in some cases. Overall, the research suggests that neighbors should have little to fear from the type of attractive and modestly sized developments that constitute the bulk of newly produced affordable housing today.
 “Don’t Put It Here” The Center for Housing Policy
“There Doesn’t Go the Neighborhood: Low-Income Housing Has No Impact on Nearby Home Values” Trulia
We understand and respect the concerns cities and residents have about the loss of transient occupancy taxes brought in by motels. However, there are monetary and non-monetary benefits to having people in housing rather than on the street. People who move from homelessness to permanent supportive housing have significantly fewer police and paramedic interactions. Their health outcomes improve, meaning a higher quality of life and fewer medical resources needed. In addition, many of the social impacts homelessness has on the broader community are mitigated by housing people. For example, people do not set up tents or sleep in public areas when they have housing.
Funding for interim housing services will come from federal COVID relief money called ESG-CV. Long-term services in the permanent housing will come from a combination of revenue from vouchers and a variety of Marin County Health and Human Services partnerships, including Whole Person Care, Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, and Social Services. We will not create any program unless there are services appropriate to the population available.
Marin’s Project Homekey sites cost $150,000 to $250,000 per unit, which is a lot of money. However, across the Bay Area and here in Marin, the average cost of a brand new unit of affordable housing is between $500,000 and $600,000. Therefore, the Homekey projects are a great deal more affordable compared to the status quo approach for creating new housing in our community.
Over the last five years, our community has dramatically improved the way we address homelessness. We now use vulnerability as the key organizing principle for assisting unhoused people, and over the last three years, we have housed nearly 300 of the most vulnerable, long-term homeless individuals in Marin; from 2017 to 2019, we saw a 28% reduction in long-term chronic homelessness (directly related to a 50% increase in permanent supportive housing stock). Over 90% of these people are still housed, and we’ve seen dramatic reductions in healthcare and criminal justice utilization once people are back inside.
While we never could have anticipated a program like Project Homekey, we have an incredibly collaborative coalition of local service providers who are committed to ensuring that every single person who gets housed has intensive, wraparound support services for as long as they need them. Our goal is to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Marin County by the end of 2022, and Project Homekey is a giant step forward on that path.