UKIAH, 12/20/2016 — The temporary winter shelter at 1045 South State Street in Ukiah opened late this year. But if all goes according to plan, that property will be the site of a permanent homeless shelter, in the form of the long-delayed tiny house “village,” the construction of which will be paid for and led by the non-profit organization Redwood Community Services (RCS).
In January of 2016, RCS was awarded $1,014,700 in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to build a community center and 35 to 40 tiny houses to be used by homeless people. But that project was put on hold when another buyer bought the property slated for the village out from under them.
At a Mendocino County Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday, December 19, RCS Executive Director Camille Schraeder told the board that RCS now plans to buy the property at 1045 South State Street, remodel parts of the existing building to serve as the community center, and place the tiny houses on a large vacant area on the property. The federal grant money is enough to carry out the first phase of the project, building the community center, while funding for the second phase, the construction of the tiny houses, has not been worked out yet.
Schraeder told the board that RCS plans to use $570,000 of the federal grant as a down payment on this property, which costs $1,170,000 and includes two large vacant lots. She said the owner will carry the remainder of the loan. The rest of the grant money is slated to be used to remodel two-thirds of the building as the homeless services community center, which would include bathrooms and showers, a non-commercial food prep serving area, offices, including Street Medicine, a resource room, an outdoor dog run, and a community garden. Rental income from a motorcycle repair shop with a lease on the front part of the building would go towards supporting the shelter.
The tiny houses village project is formally known as the Housing First Project, indicating that it is in line with the philosophy that housing is a primary need, which must be provided in order to effectively address substance abuse, mental illness, or any other conditions homeless people may suffer from. Though RCS would be the lead entity, a variety of local agencies and non-profits would participate through memorandums of understanding.
RCS originally planned to build the village on a site on Orr Street in Ukiah, which was owned by the St. Peter Eastern Catholic Church. That property is in a special overlay zone, where homeless shelters operate by right, which means they don’t need to go through an often time-consuming use permit approval process. Then, because the grant money is federal, RCS’s proposal had to undergo lengthy environmental review. Then, before the project was completely in the bag, the church sold the property, and RCS had to start all over again.
Meanwhile, the temporary homeless shelter opened on December 15. That shelter is at 1045 S. State St., at a commercial property owned by Robert Gitlin. The building is not in the overlay zone, so opening it required going through the process of obtaining a major use permit.
Schraeder said the remodel could start as early as January or February, if work can be done without disrupting the operation of the current temporary shelter, which will still be operating on that property, and may be open through April — if funding allows.
But, in the words of Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg, “Where is the money for the actual housing units?”
“Phase II really will be a new conversation,” Schraeder replied. Sage Wolf, an RCS analyst, reminded the board that the original plan for the tiny houses village relied on donations from the community and local businesses to build the miniature housing units. Anne Molgaard, Chief Operating Officer for the Health and Human Services Agency, also said that her department has applied for two grants to fund the project, though she said she does not yet know how much money is available.
Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde asked if Schraeder and others were monitoring the situation regarding federal financing for social services, observing that, “Funding streams may well change as a result of the [presidential] election.”
Referring to the federal funds, which have already been awarded, Schraeder agreed that, “This funding stream clearly is one-time. How we look at funding in the future, frankly, all bets are off, and I think we all know that.” But, she concluded, “the issue is going to be our problem, whether the sky falls or not.”
20 December 2016 Sarah Reith [email protected]