Newark residents denounce plan to house homeless people in hotel

NEWARK — The Newark City Council on Thursday approved a plan to seek a $39 million state grant to convert a city hotel into permanent housing for homeless people, over objections from about two dozen residents who said they feared the plan would harm their home values ​​and make their neighborhood unsafe.

Some said they feared children from nearby schools would be accosted by homeless people, and for the mental stability of future residents, among other concerns.

Resident Alan Chi said he supports the idea of ​​using the building for low-income housing, possibly for teachers and city restaurant workers, but said providing housing for the homeless does not would only increase the number of homeless people in the city.

“We shouldn’t flood the streets of Newark, a small town, with hundreds of homeless people,” Chi said.

“Newark is perfectly fine the way it is. You invite trouble. If you didn’t see any trouble, go to Union Square, go to Turk Street, go to the Tenderloin. Go see the viaduct between Berkeley and Oakland. That’s what you invite. Because the more services you provide, the more there will be,” Chi said.

Another man, whose name was not available in the city on Friday, said: “We are really scared if such homeless people walk the streets. Some of them have substance abuse issues and they look really scary even to adults,” he said.

He said a project like this should be placed “on the outskirts of the city, rather than right in the middle of housing.”

Resident Charles Chen said giving jobs to the homeless is a better way to help them, than providing them with housing.

“We need to provide them with jobs and let them know that they can work for themselves and they can stand on their feet, they can just survive in society in their own way. I would support them if we offered them a job,” Chen said.

Louis Chicoine, the head of the nonprofit supportive housing provider Fremont, which would manage the building, told the meeting that housing people first is the most effective way to help them succeed.

“People really strive to improve their lives, and they can’t really do a very good job without a house. If you have a house that is well managed, which it will be, and you have services, then you can go out and back into the economy and put your life in place,” he said.

City of Newark staff and Abode are hoping to purchase the 125-room TownePlace Suites hotel at 39802 Cedar Blvd. and convert all but two bedrooms into permanent apartments for the homeless and those earning 30% or less of the region’s median income.

In Newark, 30% of the median is about $29,000 a year for a single person, and about $41,000 for a family of four, according to Alameda County and federal data.

Two of the hotel rooms would be used for housing a manager and a resident services office, according to city reports.

The council also approved contributing $6 million of its own money – about $4.5 million from its New Development Supported Affordable Housing Fund and $1.5 million from its share of the New Development Fund. the American Rescue Plan Act, to help support the project if the city receives the grant.

Some residents supported the project, including a woman named Nicole, who said that when she first moved to Newark she would have been considered low-income and appreciated more affordable housing options.

“I hope our Newark community can really pull together in support. I think some of the comments tonight are based on fear and not fact. I would be happy to see that development happen,” she said, noting that she lives near the hotel.

Theresa Ballard Dias, former planning commissioner and former board member of Abode, said she lives nearby and supports the project.

“There’s a tendency in Newark to feel like we’re a small town and these issues are big city issues that aren’t our issues, and that’s just not true. Homelessness is all of our problems,” she said.

“These problems only get better if we actually provide these people with housing and security,” she said. “The only way to deal with homelessness is through homes.”

City and Abode staff have said in interviews that the hotel is well suited for a Homekey project, as the building is in good condition and all rooms already have kitchens and other amenities needed for permanent residence, which would speed up the conversion.

In trying to address residents’ concerns about potential crime, Chicoine said all tenants will have leases like all other apartment tenants and will need to follow house rules and pay a portion of the rent to stay in good standing.

Chicoine said the building will have five staff members working to manage it and provide services to all residents, including orientation and job placement, and links to mental health counseling or addictions programs. , if necessary.

Chicoine addressed some of the mental health issues raised by some callers at the meeting.

“It breaks my heart the kind of fear people have about this. Mental health is in our community; people everywhere are really struggling,” Chicoine said.

Mayor Al Nagy said Abode is a “leading” nonprofit with a good track record in affordable housing and expressed support for the project.

“If we don’t do anything as a city, if we don’t do anything as a society, then the problems are going to get worse,” Nagy said. “This is our opportunity in the Newark community to do our fair share to help end homelessness.”

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