LINCOLN COUNTY — A local housing nonprofit organization has applied to participate in a groundbreaking model of shelter for people without homes or at risk of homelessness.
The Joint Emergency Board of the Oregon Legislature last month allocated $65 million in CARES Act funding to Project Turnkey, a grant program administered by the Oregon Community Foundation to finance the purchase of distressed lodging properties to provide housing. The idea, adapted from California’s first-of-its-kind, $600 million Project Homekey, originally grew out of the increased need for non-congregant shelter space during the coronavirus pandemic.
September’s destructive wildfires created yet another population of unhoused. During separate sessions, the emergency board approved two different pots of money — $30 million for eight counties affected by the fires, including Lincoln, and $35 million for the other 28 counties.
Applications for the grants went live with just several days to complete them and submit by 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 25. The Oregon Community Foundation expects from nine to 12 hotel/motel properties to be acquired in fire-affected communities, with a goal of providing up to 500 units of housing.
On Monday, the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners gave a stamp of approval to the application of Northwest Coastal Housing by authorizing up to $10,000 to help with closing costs for the purchase of a 41-room hotel in Lincoln City, should the grant be awarded. Commissioners approved contingent on a matching contribution from Lincoln City. The Lincoln City City Council has yet to meet to consider the match.
Northwest Coastal Housing applied for a total of $3,676,000 to buy the hotel, retrofit it and run the shelter for a year. That includes a purchase price of $3.25 million, around $350,000 in operating expenses and $75,000 to make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Sheila Stiley, the organization’s executive director, said the priority would be to house wildfire victims that can’t obtain shelter through other means, such as above-market rental vouchers through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it also aims to meet the shelter needs of other populations and eventually provide wraparound services at the site.
Stiley said there are 291 wildfire victims still in hotels paid for by the Red Cross. That assistance ends Dec. 31, and the state has committed to taking over, though its specific plans for doing so have not yet been announced.
After the first year, Northwest Coastal Housing expects to fund operations mostly through occupancy fees — it estimates it needs to fill about 26 rooms to do so, Stiley said — which might be paid directly by occupants, government agencies or other service organizations. In addition to wildfire victims, it also plans to provide 12 respite beds for county hospitals. These are for hospital patients ready for discharge but in need of some level of continued medical care and who have no one to go to or nowhere to go. Talks are already underway with other potential users, but Stiley said the limited application window necessitated submitting without all of those agreements in ink. She thinks the organization’s 18 letters of recommendation and the county’s financial commitment will speak strongly for the application.
Northwest Coastal Housing hopes to begin filling rooms in February, if their application is approved. The county’s wildfire resource navigator, currently Bethany Grace Howe, who helps victims navigate the aid and recovery process, will be housed on site, case management will be provided for all guests, and they’d eventually like to bring in a clinician who can help conduct on-site assessment. The goal is to help those staying at the shelter to transition into a more permanent situation.
The organization also plans to make the redone hotel the site for a “beta test” of its work with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Permanent Supportive Housing Task Force on a project to provide holistic services across agencies and organizations. Stiley said, “It’s really a way to look at how to filter the resource system in our area. This individual we hire for that position eventually will be housed at Samaritan Health Services. This complex we’re looking at obtaining is going to be a beta test for this kind of position, looking at how we can best utilize our resources to be more client-centric and create the correct wraparound services.”
When it came to selecting a location for the site, Stiley said only Lincoln City made sense. “Lincoln City was the place hit by the fires, they have the worst poverty rate in the county, and they have the highest number of homeless youth and homeless population in general,” she said. “For all intents and purposes, it makes no sense to apply for anywhere else other than Lincoln City.”
Lincoln County Commissioner Claire Hall, a longtime advocate of statewide affordable housing development who was appointed chair of the Oregon Housing Stability Council by Gov. Kate Brown in 2018, has pushed hard for the concept since its inception earlier this year.
“I’m exceptionally proud of the way our community has come together to quickly to put together what I believe will be a very strong proposal for Project Turnkey funding,” Hall said.
“I was part of the team that took part in several rounds of meetings with leaders in the state legislature to advocate for this concept, and throughout those meetings, I was hoping Lincoln County would be able to be part of this. Our strong culture of collaboration allowed us to pull together a proposal in about 10 days’ time that would have taken months under other circumstances.”
Stiley said that local spirit of coming together in the face of adversity was one of the qualities she was most of proud of in Lincoln County, where her family has resided for at least seven generations. “If there is a need such as this, if there is a crisis, if you want to see a community come together, look at Lincoln County, and you’ll see a rapid response,” she said. “And this is a multi-agency response — across the community, not just saying ‘yes, this is something we support,’ but also, ‘we’re committed.’”
Commissioners approved the $10,000 cash contribution with the explicit understanding that it would be a one-time payment. Commissioner Doug Hunt, chairing Monday’s meeting for the absent Commissioner Kaety Jacobson, said his only concern was sustainability after the first-year funding was up. He expressed confidence in Northwest Coastal Housing based on its success with other affordable living projects in the county. The organization submitted its application on Tuesday and expects to hear back by Dec. 15.