Alameda County, San Francisco vote to extend COVID hotels

This article is originally by Marisa Kendall on The Mercury News

Supervisors in Alameda County on Tuesday voted to extend leases on four hotels sheltering unhoused people, providing a brief reprieve to some residents who had been warned they’d have to vacate “very soon.”

With the extensions, the last hotels are set to close at the end of February.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a 60-day emergency ordinance to ensure its COVID hotel program continues sheltering homeless residents.

A surge in COVID cases has made some officials push to extend emergency programs that have sheltered thousands of unhoused Bay Area residents in hotels during the pandemic — and which some experts say have been crucial in protecting people from COVID-19. FEMA has promised to reimburse counties for 75% of the cost of the hotel rooms, and federal CARES Act funding has made up some of the difference. But local officials had made moves to start winding down the programs, worried FEMA funds would soon dry up.

In San Francisco, officials had planned to move more than 500 people out of Project Roomkey hotels this month and close all hotels by June. After pushback from critics, and after receiving additional funding from the state, that timeline was extended three months.

Not satisfied with that extension, a group of supervisors introduced an emergency ordinance prohibiting the city from moving someone out of a hotel room unless the person found stable housing, or unless the FEMA funding ended. As people found housing and moved out of hotel rooms, the city would have to fill those rooms with new unhoused residents.

Facing criticism over the cost burden that proposal could place on the city, Supervisor Matt Haney introduced several last-minute amendments Tuesday night. Under the amended legislation, the city can begin slowly ramping down the Roomkey program as people move into housing, by closing four out of every 10 vacated rooms. And while the city must find housing for people currently in Roomkey hotels, as new people enter the program, they won’t necessarily be guaranteed housing when the hotels ultimately close.

“This is a great compromise. This is what legislation is about,” Board President Norman Yee said.

In Alameda County, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the lease on the Marina Village Inn in Alameda through January, at a cost of $375,646. The Rodeway Inn in Berkeley also will continue serving unhoused guests until Jan. 31, at a cost of $301,990. Another two hotels — the Radisson in Oakland and the Residence Inn in Livermore, will remain open until the end of February, at a cost of $3.66 million and $1.53 million, respectively.

The county intends to shut down two pandemic hotels — the Springhill Suites in Newark and the Quality Inn in Berkeley — at the end of this month.

By the time those leases expire, county officials hope to have found long-term housing options for all residents.

The Quality Inn in Oakland will remain open through July to house people who have tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19, at a cost of $3.42 million.

Heather Chavez and other residents of the Livermore hotel recently received fliers slipped under their doors that warned: “This temporary hotel shelter will be closing very soon.” Hotel staff told her that meant she’d be out by the end of December, she said.

Chavez, 48, was relieved to get an extra two months to find housing.

“That helps a lot,” she said.

Chavez previously was living in an RV parked on the side of the road in Hayward, without power or water. She has put in several applications for subsidized housing, with help from her caseworker at the hotel, but so far hasn’t found a permanent home.

Despite the reprieve, many of the Residence Inn guests still are worried they’ll be thrown out at the end of the month, said 62-year-old Baltazar Cordeiro, who also is staying at the hotel.

“People are scared,” he said.

Cordeiro, who accepted a hotel room because he thought it would be a step toward permanent housing, is frustrated he’s made no progress on that front so far.

“I’ve been here two and a half months,” he said, “and I have no results.”

Related Articles