After voicing concerns about the county’s abrupt purchase of a local hotel to be used as low-income and homeless senior housing, Redwood Shores residents will have a chance to address San Mateo County and Redwood City officials during a community dialogue session.
Community concerns emerged following an announcement the state had awarded the county a $33 million grant as part of its Project Homekey initiative. The $600 million program, which aims to provide permanent shelter to homeless residents or those at risk of becoming homelessness, evolved from the state’s COVID-driven Project Roomkey program.
Throughout the pandemic, the county has regularly provided shelter to more than 180 unhoused residents, costing roughly $1 million per month. Project Homekey allows the county to purchase two hotels, TownePlace Suites Hotel in Redwood Shores and Pacific Inn along El Camino Real in Redwood City, which would make available 170 affordable housing units.
TownePlace Suites Hotel, with 95 units ranging from studios to three-bedroom apartments, would be reserved for seniors who may or may not have been homeless. The purchase of the hotel came as a surprise to Redwood Shores residents informed of the proposal a day before county supervisors were to take it to a vote during a special meeting Nov. 5.
During the meeting, Sue Nix, the president of the Redwood Shores Community Association, said residents would have liked to have been engaged on the matter and raised concerns the neighborhood would not be fit for such a facility, a concern echoed by other residents during the supervisors’ meeting and a Redwood City Council meeting Nov. 9.
“I know that there is a great need throughout California, San Mateo County very much included, as far as housing,” said Nix. “Redwood Shores is an area that unfortunately, [that doesn’t] have many services. … We get what we get when we get it.”
Nix noted the community lacks a dedicated police force and adequate transportation making commuting difficult for able-bodied individuals. Disputing potential misconceptions of the Redwood Shores community, she said the area is home to “people of every type,” and a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program which reserves 50% of available units for seniors.
Vivian Crisman, a 23-year-Redwood Shores resident, shared Nix’s concerns that the site, located near Highway 101, was a bad choice, citing transportation reasons. Calling the proposal a “done deal,” she said county officials will have to work on building trust with its future neighbors.
“The community meeting is a good start but the sad part is that if this would have been managed better and they were more upfront we wouldn’t have this problem. … Let us have a seat at the table. Teach us. Inform us. They lost our trust and now we have to rebuild it,” Crisman said in a phone interview, adding that additional transparency on who will be responsible for the site and responsive to community concerns would be beneficial.
County Manager Mike Callagy, acknowledging the community’s concerns in a phone interview, said state and federal funding schedules require the county have hotel deals closed by Dec. 2, with at least 50% of residents occupying the facility within 90 days and 100% occupancy reached within 180 days.
During the community meeting, to be held virtually from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 18, Callagy and Supervisor Warren Slocum said they intend to fully explain the origins of the hotel deals and address additional worries, though both noted concerns around access to transportation and amenities were unfounded.
“Some of the things said don’t seem to be the case but when you get two minutes to address the board that’s not a conversation,” said Slocum, acknowledging resident’s frustrations with not receiving answers to questions raised during the special meeting.
Callagy said the county had been passed up for state funding in five of its six grant rounds, until eventually being approved in the sixth and final round. The county received the eighth largest grant amount compared to other counties, he said, but were expected to spend it quickly before it was withdrawn.
The county also has the fastest aging population in the state while being one of the wealthiest, he said, resulting in growing wage disparities that may force a longtime resident into homelessness. Callagy added that the county has a goal of “functional zero” homelessness, meaning experiencing homelessness would be rare, brief and never chronic.
“It’s wonderful to have so much wealth, but naturally that leaves people behind,” he said. “[Residents] should not be forced to leave the county where they’ve spent much of their adult lives, have loved ones, connections, their doctors, their places of worship, everything they like about this county.”
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