Mountain View's ambitious plan to build transitional housing for homeless seniors and families is moving forward, after state officials awarded the city $12.4 million this week to fund the project.
The city will have to move fast to make use of the money, however, with a hard deadline of Dec. 30 for the grant funds. That gives just three short months to demolish a vehicle maintenance lot on Leghorn Street and transform the one-acre property into a 100-unit modular housing complex.
"We are hoping to be able to assist more than 300 residents with occupancy before the end of the year," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga in a statement. "It is an ambitious housing goal, and Mountain View continues to lead the way."
Mountain View is one of only a few Bay Area cities and counties to receive grants from the state's $600 million Homekey program, which was announced earlier this year. The program was largely intended for purchasing and rehabilitating existing housing, particularly hotels and motels, that can be used for interim or permanent housing for the homeless.
Santa Clara County received $29.2 million from the state program to convert an Extended Stay America hotel in Milpitas into 132 apartments for the homeless, including those who have lost housing as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
While the Homekey program was all but telling public agencies to use existing hotels and motels -- which explains the tight deadline -- Mountain View took a different approach. Partnering with the nonprofit LifeMoves, the city will be using the money to buy the vehicle maintenance lot at 2566 Leghorn St. and replace it with prefabricated units roughly 80 to 100 square feet in size.
If built, the site will have 100 modular units that will serve as interim housing for homeless seniors and families, with stays typically between three and four months. Case management services will be available for the temporary tenants, with a goal of getting people placed into permanent supportive housing.
Mountain View has experienced one of the largest increases in homelessness in the Bay Area, seeing its population more than double in the last five years. The latest 2019 census count found 606 unhoused residents in Mountain View, many of whom have turned to living in cars and RVs along city streets.
Up until now, the city's homeless safety net has been through safe parking lots and a cold weather shelter inside a downtown church. The breakneck pace of the project and the use of prefabricated units make it a unique proposal in Mountain View, said Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director.
"It's the first of its kind in Mountain View for doing any kind of residential use with modulars, and it'll be the first of its kind in terms of rapid deployment for getting this project through the process and in place," Chen said.
Competition for the grant money was fierce, despite a tight window for filing applications. The Bay Area, which was allocated $100 million of the funding, submitted a total of 29 applications requesting more than triple that amount.
Though city officials touted the project as a good location close to public transit, it's in the heart of an industrial area far from parks and other neighborhood services. Chen said the plan is to set aside enough room on-site for outdoor space and common amenities for the residents, including areas for gardening and recreation.
Running the site will cost an estimated $2.4 million, some of which is covered through the state grant, and city officials are currently exploring ways to keep the program afloat for at least five years -- a requirement under the Homekey program. One of those contributors could be Google, which is currently expected to chip in community benefit funds from its Landings office project.
The homeless services will be provided through LifeMoves, which runs 23 homeless housing facilities spanning from Daly City to San Jose. Joanne Price, the nonprofit's vice president of real estate and operations, said they've been watching Homekey for a while and found that the program, though targeted at hotels, could still be used for other types of interim housing. She said LifeMoves already had its sights set on the Leghorn Street property and pitched the idea to city officials earlier this year.
"We are in a crisis right now, and I think it's great that Gov. Newsom is putting this funding out there and really driving these projects," Price said.
By accepting the grant money, the city is now on a tight deadline for demolition, site work and installation of the modular homes between now in Dec. 30. It's a tall order for a proposal that was kind of an out-of-the-box approach to begin with, Chen said, but that hasn't deterred city staff.
"Our approach isn't really, 'Can it get done?'" he said. "The approach is that this is the timeline, let's figure out a way to get it done."