A Mountain View hotel could soon be home to dozens of homeless residents and recently displaced tenants, after council members voted unanimously Tuesday to convert the property.
The owner of Crestview Hotel, which is located on El Camino Real and straddles the Sunnyvale border, has offered to sell the property for use as a homeless housing development. With little cash on hand to buy the property, city officials are looking to Santa Clara County to foot the bill and take ownership of the 66-room hotel.
Council members unanimously approved the idea and praised it as a way to help the unhoused, despite opposition from some nearby residents who feared it would sink property values and increase crime. The council agreed to put up to $3.7 million toward rehabilitating and renovating it, which is a small sum compared to the cost of land and new construction.
"It's very seldom that we have opportunities like this," said Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga. "When we have that opportunity, you have to grab it."
The owner of the hotel contacted the city in October about the possible sale after hearing about a state program aimed at converting older properties into supportive housing for the homeless. The program, dubbed Homekey, has been used by cities and counties across the Bay Area to buy up hotels and motels for interim and permanent housing.
Santa Clara County recently received $29.2 million from the program to convert an Extended Stay America hotel in Milpitas into a 132-unit apartment complex for homeless residents and families, including those who lost housing as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The deadline for Homekey applications has long since passed, and city officials say Mountain View doesn't have the cash on hand to buy Crestview Hotel. But in a three-way deal with the county, the city could leverage money from the $950 million Measure A bond, according to Wayne Chen, the city's assistant community development director.
The loose framework of the proposal calls for the hotel rooms to be used for two purposes: as housing for homeless residents, as well as temporary homes for displaced tenants. The city has allowed the demolition of more than 1,000 units over the last several years -- much of it conversion from rent-controlled apartments to condos -- and the hotel could be a pitstop for those abruptly ousted from their homes.
Though the hotel owner did not address the council at the Jan. 26 meeting, the last year has been brutal for the lodging industry, leaving many in dire financial straits. Estimates by the American Hotel and Lodging Association found that half of hotel rooms will remain empty through 2021, and that it won't get much better even when public health orders are lifted. More than 90,000 hotel jobs have been lost in California alone, and hotels nationwide lost an estimated $82 billion in room revenue.
Advocacy groups urged the council to approve the hotel conversion and help those in dire need of housing, citing a dearth of so-called permanent supportive housing units in the region and the heightened public health risks associated with displacement during COVID-19. But numerous residents south of the hotel blasted the proposal, calling it a damaging project that would hurt property values, increase crime and destroy nearby businesses.
Sophia Yunxin Li, a homeowner on Crestview Drive, said the project would force high-income residents to leave the area, ruining the "prosperity" of the community, and insisted that there are better places to create homeless housing.
"It is an extremely inefficient use of the budget because Crestview Hotel is at a prime location where housing is expensive," Li said in a letter to council members. "There are much more affordable places to build shelters for the homeless. The taxpayers' money should be spent in a wiser way."
The sentiment was not unanimous, however. A handful of nearby residents gave a full-throated endorsement of the proposal and asked the council to move forward.
"This is a neighborhood that sees a lot of business vacancies, but it feels safe, and there is plenty of room to grow it into a robust area that welcomes disadvantaged people," said Dori Myer, a resident living across the street from the hotel.
Councilwoman Pat Showalter called the proposal a great project and voted in support of it, but said the complaints should not fall on deaf ears. She suggested that the city and county address what she called "legitimate concerns" from the nearby residents and work to allay their worries while developing the property.
With the addition of homeless housing at the Crestview Hotel, Mountain View's support for homeless residents will have increased significantly over the last four years. The city opened a downtown homeless shelter in 2017 -- with no major opposition -- and launched three safe parking lots that house close to 150 people.
In addition, the Homekey project on Leghorn Street is currently under construction, and would provide 100 units to homeless seniors and families as soon as April.