Taxpayers will pay $100 million to bring 166 permanent homelessness housing units to Costa Mesa under California’s Homekey program. Mayor John Stephens, Councilman Loren Gameros, and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Harlan voted in favor of a $55 million project to transform the Motel 6 off of Harbor Blvd into 88 one-room housing units for the homeless. In a subsequent Council Meeting, they also approved $45 million for the remodel the Travelodge on Newport Blvd to create 78 units.
The projects may appear to be a commendable effort to address homelessness; however, the cost to transform the Motel 6 is $625,000 per tiny 300-square-foot one room unit, translating to just under $2,100 per square foot. This is very high even relative to the Costa Mesa real estate market where homes average $748 per square foot. This other looming question is does this really solve anything or just creates more issues.
There is a similar Homekey project in Los Angeles, where the Mayfair Hotel was approved for conversion into housing units. Unfortunately, the results in Los Angeles have not lived up to expectations. The city and county are currently embroiled in a lawsuit filed by the LA Alliance for Human Rights, demanding more effective measures to address the increase in crime due to the growing homelessness crisis on Skid Row.
The Mayfair Hotel conversion has witnessed fires, rampant drug use, and violence. While Mayor Bass of Los Angeles has attempted to reassure residents with enhanced security, the situation has not improved and frustrations from residents persist.
A recent study by the nonpartisan Pacific Research Institute raises serious questions about the Homekey program. Despite its “Housing First” approach, which emphasizes providing a stable home to combat homelessness, there is insufficient data supporting this theory. “Housing First” fails to address significant underlying issues such as addiction and mental illness.
While Council Member Marr expresses the importance of housing opportunities, data suggests that Homekey is not delivering on its promises. Administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) with a substantial grant of approximately $1.4 billion (FY 2021-22), it has yet to provide a convincing case for its effectiveness.
The exorbitant costs and questionable results raise doubts about the effectiveness of the two homelessness projects, but Costa Mesa’s City Council voted 6-1 on both of these projects. Only Council Member Harper voted no and challenged the cost and the potential results. Unless the community speaks up the cost of these decisions will be felt by the taxpayers and neighborhoods adjacent to these projects.