Sebastopol Inn

Photo courtesy Sebastopol Inn

After being in limbo on a state waitlist for funding, the county has received  $6.375 million in funding from the state’s Project Homekey program to purchase the Sebastopol Inn to provide supportive housing for the homeless.

Once purchased, the Sebastopol Inn would provide 31 newly remodeled rooms as permanent supportive housing units in central Sebastopol, accommodating 31 or more individuals.

Gov. Gavin Newsom created the Project Homekey program to fund city and county efforts to purchase hotels, motels and vacant apartment buildings to develop into permanent housing for homeless Californians vulnerable to COVID-19, according to his office.

The county’s proposal to purchase the inn has already been approved by the board of supervisors and was sitting in limbo while officials waited for it to move off of the state’s waitlist.

According to an announcement from the county about the funding, Sonoma County will now proceed to move forward with the purchase of the inn located at 6751 Sebastopol Road for the budgeted amount of $6.375 million in funds supplied by the state through the Project Homekey program. The total cost for the Sebastopol Inn to be used as interim housing is $10.85 million including acquisition, development and operating funds.

This marks the second Sonoma County proposal to receive state funding through Project Homekey. The board of supervisors in July approved a plan to purchase the 44-room Hotel Azura in downtown Santa Rosa using $7.95 million in state funding.

“When the governor put up this money back in the summer and challenged counties to come forward with proposals to convert hotels to permanent supportive housing, we dreamed big and came up with two proposals,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, chair of the board of supervisors. “We couldn’t be prouder of the fact that we’re now one of the only counties in the state to have more than one project approved.”

According to a press release from the county announcing the funding, the inn will be remodeled to provide permanent housing for vulnerable people experiencing homelessness.

“The acquisition of the Sebastopol Inn is important as the county works hard to provide permanent supportive housing available throughout the county,” said Interim Executive Director of the Community Development Commission Barbie Robinson in a statement.

During a board of supervisors meeting on Nov. 10, Robinson said that such units in the county are important, especially given the reduced housing from years of wildfires.

“These units are more important than ever given COVID, as well as the wildfires over the past few years, which has reduced our available housing available for sheltering our homeless individuals,” Robinson said.

The opportunity for permanent supportive housing in Sebastopol wanes as the county continues to face a lack of affordable housing, which has continued to worsen since the wildfires in 2017 and most recently this August when the Walbridge Fire struck west county.

Sonoma County has the fourth largest homeless population for large suburban areas in the U.S., the county’s Project Homekey webpage says.

During the Nov. 10 board meeting, Sonoma County 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said there is always overwhelming community concern and often opposition when homeless services arise.

“But at the end of the day, everyone does want to solve homelessness and they have to solve it somewhere. And that involves folks actually stepping up and instead of saying, ‘Not in my backyard,’ saying, ‘Yes, in my backyard, yes in everyone’s backyard, we all need to be a part of this solution,’” Hopkins said.

Individuals housed at the Sebastopol Inn and Hotel Azura will participate in the county’s ACCESS (Accessing Coordinated Care to Empower Self Sufficiency) Initiative.

The ACCESS Initiative provides individualized, integrated services to individuals experiencing homelessness based on their needs,” the county’s announcement states. “These services span county and community programs to provide wraparound and holistic care and interventions, which are critical to improving individuals’ well-being and self-sufficiency. Services include primary healthcare, behavioral health services, economic assistance, food assistance, employment training and other services. These resources and services are key determinants of successful housing placement and the permanency of these placements.”

(5) comments

MKH

@winter4x@gmail.com. It's not a question of NIMBY. It's a question of monetary choices. If we lived in a state where our schools were fully funded, our parks were fully funded, our roads were well-maintained and working people received housing subsidies so those living on $15 per hour had housing stability, I don't think there would be any questions around these purchases and the on-going financial commitment to them. Yet, we live in a society where we have to make choices on how taxpayer funds are spent. Hopefully, they are spent to benefit the majority of the citizens who are paying into the system through w2 wages, property tax, sales tax and other government fees. For instance, the cost of the Sebastopol Inn could have paid for the entire Ives Park renovation. The yearly cost of housing people in the Sebastopol Inn could have paid for the budget gaps in the West County High School District which serves 1800 students. There are many other options in terms of housing homeless people. Many homeless people suffer from mental health issues so funding mental health medical facilities would be one good way to start addressing homelessness. Many homeless people suffer from addiction so funding rehab centers would be another good way to address homelessness. The Sebastopol Inn is neither a drug rehab facility nor a mental health facility nor an elder care facility. The governor has designated hundreds of acres of state land, which we already own and would not have to purchase, for use for homeless housing. In the Depression, part of the New Deal was the WPA and the Civilian Conservation Corps. We certainly could use that model to integrate homeless people back into the workforce and also to have some public works projects done. Trails and camps built by the CCC have provided generations with enjoyment and pleasure. Possibly the County could have looked into turning the Palm Drive Hospital into a rehab center and purchased it thus relieving the public debt commitment on that property. There are many ways to address homelessness which would actually house many more people and address their support needs. It's really not a question of NIMBY, it's a question of how to solve a complex problem in the context of the health and well-being of the community as a whole.

MKH

I hope the County intends on reimbursing the City of Sebastopol for lost property tax, Transient Occupancy tax and sales tax. This purchase makes zero sense, especially at a cost of between $24k-36K per resident per year. It's amazing that the County signed us up for this forever financial and social commitment. Once again, the homeless solutions rest on the backs of working people, small business, financially burdening a small city with limited resources and its community. And we can be rest assured that no supportive services will be found in Governor Newsom's backyard or the backyard of any of this wealthy donors. If we map out funded Project Homekey projects, we can be rest assured that no wealthy communities will be housing these hotels. Their business districts will remain unencumbered. They will have no impact on their local services or public facilities. We need to rethink our homeless solutions to make sure they are equitable in terms of distribution, financial and social impact, and do not end up sucking the budgets out of our schools, parks and libraries. Hopkins and Robinson may move on but.the City of Sebastopol will have this forever.

scamperwillow

Um, might I suggest that Sebastopol is a wealthy community?

MKH

West County certainly has wealthy people in it; that is true but the City of Sebastopol is not wealthy. It has an annual budget of $10 million, now around $8 million due to loss of sales tax because of the pandemic. At $10 million (in good years) with 7800 citizens, it comes out to around $1300 per person, per year in City services, which is quite low considering the amount of property tax people pay. It's very low considering that it costs $3K per month/ $36K annually to house a person at the Sebastopol Inn. The loss of sales tax revenue, property tax and TOT from the Sebastopol Inn will come out of the City budget thus reducing the amount of money taxpayers receive in services. The new residents of the Inn will naturally cause an increase in need of service (as all residents do which is why developers pay impact fees and there is a transient occupancy tax on hotel rooms). Thus the already meager budget of the City will be reduced while the citizens of Sebastopol continue to pay the same amount in property taxes. To give you a sense of what a wealthy community might look like, look at price per square foot in different regions in California - Sebastopol is around $560, Burlingame is $1200, Atherton is $1700, Mill Valley is $894, Stockton is $216, Santa Rosa is $387, Santa Monica is $1000, Palo Alto is $1560 and Los Gatos is $941. So while the price per square foot in Sebastopol might seem high, it's relatively middle class compared to many communities in California. The people who work in the Barlow and on Main Street are most likely making minimum wage. The people who own the small businesses on Main Street and the Barlow have had to manage flood, fire and a pandemic. The wealthy people who live on land in West County are not dependent on foot traffic on Main Street or in the Barlow for their livelihoods. So this hotel conversion directly impacts the City services of the residents of Sebastopol, small business owners and the people who work in local stores and restaurants. If these small businesses are impacted, people will lose jobs and the City will lose more revenue. So yes, while there are certainly wealthy people living in West County, the impact of the hotel will be felt by working and middle class people.

winter4x@gmail.com

It is way past time for Sebastopol to attend to the housing needs of our most stressed neighbors. As Lynda Hopkins mentioned: "Yes in our backyards." We have a responsibility to do more than push the problem our of our view and away from our neighborhoods.

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