Modesto commits $2.85M to buy, convert motel into housing for homeless people

American Budget Inn and Suites on Kansas Avenue in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.
American Budget Inn and Suites on Kansas Avenue in Modesto, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019. aalfaro@modbee.com

Modesto has committed $2.85 million to buy and convert the 103-room American Budget Inn & Suites at Kansas Avenue and Highway 99 into studio apartments with services for homeless people.

The City Council voted 6-0 on Tuesday to allocate some of the funding it receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project. (Councilwoman Kristi Ah You was not at the meeting.)

The project is a partnership among the Stanislaus Regional Housing Authority, Modesto and Stanislaus County. The housing authority would own and operate the complex and provide some of the funding for its purchase and renovation. The city and county also would contribute funding.

Housing Authority Executive Director Barbara Kauss has said the purchase price is confidential until there is a sale. She expected to be able to release the price and renovation costs in the coming weeks. The authority hopes to open the converted motel as the Kansas House by the end of this year.

County spokeswoman Amy Vickery said in a Wednesday email that county officials “are ironing out specifics on a funding plan to support the project. The county is working closely with the Stanislaus Regional Housing Authority to understand details such as property rehab requirements, operation costs, etc.

“In the next month we plan to have all details resolved and bring a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. ... We have a lot of interest in seeing this project happen successfully.”

The Kansas House would provide 102 studio apartments for homeless people, complete with a kitchenette and a washer-and-dryer unit in each apartment. One of the motel rooms would be used for providing case management and other services to tenants. The on-site manager would live in the three-bedroom apartment that is now on the property.

Officials say the Kansas House is part of the strategy of closing the Modesto Outdoor Emergency Shelter — which is a tent city underneath the Ninth Street Bridge in the Tuolumne River Regional Park — and moving the roughly 400 people living there to new shelter by the end of the year.

That shelter includes 182 beds with services that would take couples, pets and possessions and is being completed at The Salvation Army’s Berberian Center as well as the expansion of the existing emergency shelter there from about 150 to about 200 beds. Officials say they also would rely on other shelter providers to provide beds for those now living at the outdoor shelter.

Deputy City Manager Caluha Barnes provided council members Tuesday night with this update. She said people moving from the outdoor shelter would be interviewed and assessed as part of finding them their best housing option.

Barnes also said the council would be asked at its Sept. 24 meeting to approve an additional $235,000 for Rank Investigations and Protection to provide around-the-clock security at the outdoor shelter.

She said the county would cover 70 percent of the $235,000, meaning the city’s cost will be $70,500. City spokesman Thomas Reeves said in an interview that as of last week Modesto had spent about $144,500 on operating the tent city since it opened in February, including such costs as cleaning and servicing the portable bathrooms and trash removal.

That means Modesto can expect to spend at least $215,000 on the outdoor shelter. Stanislaus County and the Stanislaus Community Foundation are paying the nonprofit agency Turning Point to coordinate services there. The county has said it is using state homelessness services to pay Turning Point.

Barnes told council members that about 600 people have cycled in and out of the outdoor shelter, with 33 of them moving on to permanent housing, including living with family or friends, and 46 have moved on to treatment centers, long-term hospitalizations and, in some cases, incarceration.

The Kansas House would provide homes for 150 to 200 homeless people, including couples, single men and women, friends or adult siblings who want to live together, and a parent with a child.

Officials stress that Kansas House is not a shelter but housing with services for homeless people who are placed there based on referrals from service providers. So it is for homeless people who are doing the work to better their lives. The Housing Authority would provide them with HUD vouchers to pay their rent.

The expectation is that Kansas House residents would move to the next rung of housing within a year, but there is no time limit for how long they can live at the Kansas House provided they follow the rules. The Housing Authority can evict tenants who don’t.

Kauss, the housing authority executive director, said her agency is building on what other communities have learned in using motels as housing. She said those lessons include the need to convert the motels into housing, provide tenants with services and screen them to ensure they are a good fit.

Police Chief Galen Carroll told council members Tuesday night that he expects the project will be an improvement to the area over the existing motel.

Modesto is providing the Housing Authority with $2.5 million, setting aside $250,000 for administration costs and $100,000 for what it calls “activity delivery costs” for the project, with all of the $2.85 million coming from its HUD funding.

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Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.