Salinas awarded $2.6 million to address family homelessness

SALINAS — Tasked with tackling chronic homelessness but constrained by limited housing, the city of Salinas is getting creative to solve the perfect storm of need. And its methods are soon-to-be supported by the state.

This week, the city announced it is bound to receive a state-funded award of more than $2.6 million to develop permanent housing options for families experiencing homelessness in Salinas. The funding is appropriated by the California Interagency Council on Homelessness through its Family Homelessness Challenge Grant program. Created by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Legislature, the Family Homelessness Challenge Grant program is part of a broader $12 billion package to address homelessness contained in last year’s state budget.

Following a competitive application process, Salinas is one of 10 jurisdictions across the state to snag a portion of the $17 million offered through the challenge.

“We’re totally thrilled,” said Megan Hunter, Salinas’ director of community development. “This is an amazing opportunity for us to show an out-of-the-box way of addressing family homelessness.”

Salinas’ idea is twofold: purchase three to four single-family homes throughout the city, as many as funds allow, then expand the sites’ housing capacity with the addition of accessory dwelling units at each property. Ultimately, the city hopes to house two families per property, for a potential total of eight families, or around 35 people, Hunter explained, noting the group eventually served could be larger pending family size and houses purchased.

Per Monterey County’s most recent point-in-time count in 2019, nearly 600 family members were experiencing homelessness across the county, 51% of whom were unhoused. Though this year’s count — conducted annually by the county’s Coalition of Homeless Service Providers  — has yet to be released, the coalition is aware of over 900 Monterey County families experiencing homelessness in search of services, according to director Roxanne Wilson. Feeling the urgent demand firsthand, Wilson recognized Salinas’ work to address the problem.

“Their innovative project bypasses traditional barriers to increasing homeless housing stock, like high construction costs and lack of water,” Wilson said in an email. “We have learned that some families prefer to live in scattered site housing so they can blend in and integrate discreetly with the community.”

Though the Salinas-based project would serve a small sampling of local families experiencing homelessness, Hunter said the program is demonstrative, or rather a trial run to determine feasibility and impact. If successful, Hunter thinks Salinas could lead by example for other jurisdictions facing similar obstacles to curbing homelessness.

“This could be a really interesting model, especially for smaller cities that may not have the ability to build multi-family housing projects,” said Hunter. “With (accessory dwelling units), you can produce more housing without the same costs of building those large complexes.”

Salinas’s newly state-supported plans will be completed in partnership with the Oakland-based Bay Area Community Services, a primarily government-funded organization that offers behavioral health and housing services to people underserved across Northern California down to the Central Coast. While the city will be monitoring and facilitating the program, Hunter said Bay Area Community Services will carry out actual property purchases and accessory dwelling unit construction.

This project will expand an already established relationship between Salinas and Bay Area Community Services, which operates the 100-bed Salinas Housing Advancement Resources and Education — or SHARE — Center that opened last year.

Hunter explained it was a regularly high intake at the shelter that inspired an expansion to the options available to Monterey County families experiencing homelessness. Since opening, the SHARE Center has operated at capacity, according to the shelter’s program manager, Nykole Sakihara, who said a good portion of regular residents are families. As of Friday, Sakihara said the shelter is housing 14 families, filling 60 beds of the 100 available.

And there is a long waitlist of families vying to get in should a spot open.

The lingering need has made Hunter particularly hopeful the city’s incoming housing project is a jumping-off point rather than a standalone effort. Eventually, she thinks the model could encourage established homeowners with grounds to spare to tack on accessory dwelling units to their properties to help a family needing somewhere to stay.

A growing interest in accessory dwelling units across Salinas stands to bolster Hunter’s ambition. Since January 2018, the city has issued 215 accessory dwelling unit permits, 93 of which have been finalized, according to Community Development Department data. The vast majority of those issued — 175 permits — have been doled out in the last 18 months. Within the same period, 68 were finalized.

Hunter said “we anticipate seeing many more (accessory dwelling units finalized) over this year,” adding that the city plans to release accessory dwelling unit pre-approved plans later this month to streamline the process and generate more housing in Salinas.

“We are trying to hit housing on all fronts,” she said.

As for the city and Bay Area Community Services’ burgeoning operation, properties have not yet been identified but will not be concentrated in any one area or neighborhood, the partners said. Selection will depend on market availability, location, size and site constraints. Still, Hunter said chosen properties will ideally be located in high resource areas with access to wide-ranging services and schools.

Apart from the Coalition of Homeless Service Providers, several other local organizations — including Catholic Charities, the Housing Resource Center, YWCA, Salvation Army and the Monterey County Office of Education — are working with the city and Bay Area Community Services to support the services side of the pair’s program.

“We currently have a lot of families in shelters — they don’t have permanent addresses,” Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig in a press release. “The ‘Family Homelessness Challenge Grant’ will allow us to give support to homeless families in Salinas by providing housing for them. We’re excited about the opportunity to reduce homelessness in our community, and this is a huge step towards achieving that goal.”

Contributed by local news sources

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