A person sleeping on a bench on Anacapa Street | Credit: Paul Wellman

Governor Newsom announced last week that $600 million in funding will become available to cities and counties across California to buy housing for Californians experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19. The Central Coast, which includes Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz counties, has been allocated nearly $22 million for individual projects.

The continuing urgency to protect the state’s most vulnerable populations turned up some potential sites in Santa Barbara County. The Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County was working with the state on the funding, said Lucille Boss, a senior housing specialist at county Community Services.

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The application process was only getting started and many hurdles remained before specific properties could be identified, Boss said. More details would be known after a training session on July 24.

The options could include bridge housing, which would provide a place to stay for up to six months for people directly transitioning from homelessness to a personal residence. An affordable housing option would provide a permanent home with rent payments supplemented through the Housing Authority.

The state’s new Project Homekey program builds upon the success of Project Roomkey, developed as part of California’s response to COVID-19. Project Roomkey rented hotel and motel rooms across the state to provide temporary homeless housing for individuals who are already at risk of lower life expectancy, substance abuse, poor health, and infectious and chronic illness by virtue of being without shelter.

“Homekey is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to massively expand housing for the homeless in California with federal stimulus funds,” said Governor Newsom in a press release. “This unique opportunity requires us to move quickly, in close collaboration with our city and county partners, to protect the most vulnerable people in our state.”

The available pot of money is part of California’s direct allocation of the Federal Coronavirus Aid Relief Funds. Initial operating funds of $50 million to get the program underway leaves $550 million to be provided directly to cities and counties for housing. It represents the largest expansion of housing for people experiencing homelessness in recent history.

For a speedier implementation of Homekey housing, Governor Newsom signed legislation providing automatic zoning compliance for converted hotels, motels, and other housing types that will utilize Homekey funding.

California’s Department of Housing and Community Development took applications starting July 22, and the first tier of projects could be awarded as early as 30 days later. All applications must be submitted by September 30, and any funding awarded must be spent by December 30.

[Correction, July 25: The county Housing Authority is the lead agency on the project, this story has been corrected to state, not Community Services. While a number of properties are being looked at, the specific number is unknown.

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