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Controversy regarding the Homekey program

Two months ago, the Fremont City council announced their participation in the Homekey Program—a new California affordable housing initiative. During the February 15, 2022 scheduled, the program was called into question. Some say that it will put local communities at risk and others see it as a humanitarian necessity.

Illustrated by Lily Jiang


By Praghna Palaparthy and Benjamin Qiao, Naomi Lin

 

In May 2020, the Homekey program, a plan designed to build affordable housing for the homeless, was proposed with a budget of 800 million dollars. This program aims to efficiently create 6,000 affordable housing units in California by converting hotels into affordable housing units. Because of the success of a similar project called the Roomkey program, the Homekey program was passed in September of 2021.


On January 18, 2022, the city council unanimously voted upon following the Homekey project because this project will help decrease the homelessness, poverty, and crime rates in Fremont by converting Motel 6, in Warm Springs, into 150 affordable housing units. According to Mercury News, “city officials said they expect to learn in March whether the grant will come through. If it does, construction work would have to be finished by March 2023, and residents must be moved in by June 2023.” California has committed to donating 40 million dollars to Fremont to accomplish the Homekey project.


This project will be developed and constructed by Shangri La Industries, a real estate development company with a lot of experience in housing, based in Los Angeles, California. During the January 18th city council meeting, Shangri La Industries revealed that the rent depends on the resident's income. It will be no more than 30 percent of the tenant's annual income.


The city reports indicate that the motel has 159 rooms with a studio layout, but smaller kitchens would be added to each room after converting it to housing units. There will be a total of 152 to 156 rooms for apartment residents, and the other rooms will be used by managers and staff who live on the site.


Many Fremont citizens support the council's membership in the California Homekey program, but some see flaws. David, for one, spoke against the project, stating, “... I was concerned about the way that everything was rushed through for the Homekey project, and I would have expected more transparency...” Even with a multitude of public resources on this subject, the program was still not communicated clearly.


Another concern was that having a homeless housing area close to residential areas was a security issue. Simply put, Lou Zang claims that “it is not a good idea to build a homeless housing near so many kids and so many senior neighborhoods.” Children and Seniors are one of the easiest targets for criminal attacks. This idea does not state that homeless people are criminals, but the speaker argues that many crimes occur near communities with higher homelessness.


Similar to this, another point was discussed by Sia, “on Jan 11th, 2022 there was an abrupt, violent entry to a private area by a homeless person…now we also have the affordable housing right across the street we have like thefts from them. How would you ensure that the people in the lower 15 percent are safe?” According to City of Fremont Official Website, “As of January 2019, the City’s biennial homeless count showed 608 homeless persons in Fremont, an increase from the 2017 count of 409.”


On the other hand, Jennifer defends the Homekey project, saying, “We operate preschool programs throughout the area…since 1993, almost 30 years ago, our preschool has served children and their families…with absolutely no incidents. So I want to underscore that our preschool center is essentially co-located with the homeless shelter, and we have never had a negative experience.”


Fremont has a homeless population of over 600 individuals; to put this number under perspective, that is 0.25% of the population meaning that one out of 390 people living in the city is homeless. However, this does not diminish the fact that homelessness in California is a overarching problem that is primarily caused by the skyrocketing housing market, where single-family homes in city's like Fremont that cost $500,000 in 2008 now cost upwards of $1.5 million. But as the cost of living rises, the means to live lags behind. Though California has seen a 49% increase (2010-2020) in their annual wages, it has also seen a 16.7% rise in homelessness (2007 - 2019). And with it, so does government spending—where Governor Newsom has pledged to spend $4.8 Billion over the two years to address the issue.



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