Pacific Grove puts a halt to Project Homekey housing projects

PACIFIC GROVE — Hopes for bringing Project Homekey to Pacific Grove have, again, been stopped short.

Wednesday night, the Pacific Grove City Council voted 5-1, with one council member absent, against pursuing a new application for Project Homekey should the opportunity arise. The agenda item was a pre-emptive ask by staff for council support to explore local application of the program before an expected third bout of Project Homekey funding is announced in October.

Administered by the California Department of Housing and Community Development, Project Homekey is a statewide effort started in 2020 designed to help cities repurpose properties such as hotels or motels and turn them into permanent supportive housing for the homeless.

Although an opportunity to expand low-income housing with help from the state, the Pacific Grove City Council struck down the idea as issues inherent to new development on the Monterey Peninsula and other council priorities encouraged staff time away from entertaining the program.

“There certainly was City Council recognition that (ensuring) availability of affordable housing and housing for the homeless remains a high priority for us, but there were several factors why the council did not approve (a Project Homekey application) moving forward,” Pacific Grove Bill Peake said over the phone Friday.

Concerns voiced Wednesday night ranged from financial implications for the city to having limited staff to devote toward an application. The latter proved particularly salient as the city eyes an update to its housing element, a periodically renewed and state-required blueprint for how a locality’s current and projected lodging needs can be fulfilled.

While a local Project Homekey venture would address those needs to some extent, Peake said staff will already be stretched thin as they draft the city’s housing element update, which is due by December of next year.

“That sounds like a long way away, but it’s going to take a large amount of staff resources to prepare this housing element,” he continued, adding that the city has “limited finances to pay for consultants on housing efforts.”

Another factor impeding interest in Project Homekey is that Pacific Grove is already looking toward other avenues to secure affordable housing.

Last year, the city completed its Welcome Home Affordable Housing Strategy Document, an overview of actions that Pacific Grove and its community partners plan to take to bolster affordable housing. Peake said that he would like to see the city delve into actions listed in the Welcome Home document rather than direct attention to a different endeavor with Project Homekey.

Finally, a discussion on affordable housing would not be complete without a nod to water restrictions. Though Pacific Grove has water credits set aside for affordable housing should a viable project come through, the uncertainty with Project Homekey is that the program suggests a change in property use. Doing so runs the risk of clashing with the state’s cease-and-desist order against California American Water Co. for Carmel River overdraft.

The 2009 order — which state regulators denied amending last week — says “Cal-Am shall not divert water from the Carmel River for new service connections or for any increased use of water at existing service addresses resulting from a change in zoning or use.”

In repurposing a hotel or motel for affordable housing, Project Homekey suggests shifting a property’s use from commercial to residential.

Speaking to the issue at Wednesday’s meeting, City Manager Ben Harvey said “the concern from the state with the (cease-and-desist order) is an intensification — an increase in use — so that is our challenge that we have, and that’s why it’s so hard for us.”

Despite the obstacles, Councilwoman Jenny McAdams said Friday that she’s “disappointed the Project Homekey application didn’t move forward.”

This was the second time the city of Pacific Grove has tried to benefit from the state-funded program.

In January, the City Council authorized a Project Homekey application to the California Department of Housing and Community Development for an up to $15 million project once a site was identified. The application was later revoked, however, when no suitable location became definite. At one point, the Monarch Resort in Pacific Grove was floated as an option but the idea faltered when the owners decided the property was ultimately not for sale.

With repeated deterrence this week, McAdams is wary of future progress.

“We hear we need affordable housing and that it’s one of our council goals to address the homeless issue, but when it comes to city leadership, there’s not that unified political will,” she said. “Until that happens, I don’t know what results we’re expecting.”

Contributed by local news sources

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