The city of Mountain View is proposing to transform a vehicle storage lot into an emergency shelter, creating a housing complex out of small prefabricated units for homeless families and seniors.
The city applied earlier this month for $12.3 million in state funds to launch the shelter, laying out a plan in which the city would acquire the one-acre site at 2566 Leghorn Street and create "interim" housing for as many as 112 homeless individuals. If built, the shelter would be located in the heart of an industrial area of the city.
Though many details are still in flux, the hope is to quickly deploy the modular homes for short-term stays of up to 180 days and prioritize admission for homeless Mountain View residents as much as possible.
City staff describe the proposal as a high-speed attempt to take advantage of limited state funding for supportive housing, which was unveiled on July 16 and had a soft deadline of Aug. 13. The so-called "HomeKey" grant funds required the city to find a suitable location, join forces with a nonprofit to run the on-site services and come up with a plan for housing homeless residents -- all within just four weeks.
"It was a very aggressive timeline," said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director. "We were trying to respond quickly when the opportunity surfaced."
Of the $600 million in available state funding, Chen said $90 million was made available for the Bay Area, and that a total of 25 applications made it in by the Aug. 13 deadline. The City Council voted to retroactively approve the proposal on Aug. 25, underscoring the breakneck turnaround for the application.
Though many details still need to be fleshed out, the plan is to work with the company Connect Homes to lay out dozens of three-unit modular buildings, 40 feet by 8 feet in size. Each unit would have between 80 and 100 square feet and have its own bed and bath.
The city picked the nonprofit LifeMoves to operate the shelter and provide case management for clients living on the site. Representatives from LifeMoves did not respond to requests for comment.
Homelessness across Santa Clara County has surged in recent years, with a significant spike in Mountain View from 416 homeless individuals in 2017 to 606 in 2019. The city has since launched a cold weather shelter in downtown Mountain View along with three safe parking sites for residents living out of cars and RVs.
With limited options for placing homeless residents in permanent housing, city officials describe the shelter as another quick and efficient way to provide emergency housing for those who would otherwise be on the street.
If approved, the state funding will pay for all of the upfront costs and two years of operating the shelter, but the city will be on the hook to pay for it after that. Chen said the future funding sources will determine what kind of priorities, if any, will be given for homeless Mountain View residents in need of emergency housing.
"From the city's perspective the goal would be to, as much as possible, have residents in the city who are unsheltered or living in vehicles," he said.
Council member John McAlister, who voted in favor of the proposal, said he had some reservations about spending millions of dollars on a shelter when the money would be better spent on permanent housing units. He questioned the quality of life of living in a "trailer" in a parking lot with no green space, and said the money should instead be used to buy up existing apartments on the market.
"This is portable housing, it's basically a large 8-by-40-foot trailer with three units in it, and somewhere along the line you need to transition these people into permanent housing," McAlister said. "Here's an opportunity to buy permanent housing, but we weren't ready to do it."
The industrial lot is currently owned by a private entity and is listed for sale, and it's unclear if and when the city would receive title to the site. There are some big unknowns about the property, including whether it has toxic contaminants that would require environmental remediation prior to the city taking title, according to city staff.
If approved for the funding, the city faces another grueling deadline and will have to acquire the site and install all of the modular units by Dec. 30 this year. City officials say they have about 10 weeks to review the project and approve the permits, followed by a tight six-week timeline to develop the site.