y Garth Meyer
Surprise, blame and anxiety mix with optimism and support as residents and city leaders assess a state project to convert a south Redondo motel into subsidized housing for the once-homeless.
It is part of Project Homekey, which buys old motels and converts them into “Permanent Supportive Housing.”
The city council voted 5-0 last November to submit a statement of interest to participate.
The motion was made by Councilman Nils Nehrenheim and seconded by Christian Horvath.
On June 8, non-profit Century Housing Corporation paid $6.3 million for the Pacific Coast Inn on Pacific Coast Highway just north of the Knob Hill intersection.
Another $400,000 per unit has been secured from the state for remodeling.
“We as the owner provide an array of support services,” said Brian D’Andrea, Century Housing senior vice president, who spoke at Nehrenheim’s regular constituents’ meeting at Alta Vista Community Center June 11.
Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) is a step above transitional housing and homeless shelters. Tenants who are approved to live at a PSH site pay 30 percent of their income as rent, whether from a job or other benefits.
“If interested and able, we help them with job readiness,” said D’Andrea. “There’s a menu of services we make available for our residents. We cannot compel them, but we encourage them to do what it takes to improve their lives.”
The Pacific Coast Inn property, to be named Moonstone, is to have a full-time property manager onsite, and the 20 residents would have a full-time case manager.
No local zoning or planning approval by the city is required. State law (AB-140, passed in July 2021) allows Project Homekey sites to be developed on a “by right” basis. It is also exempt from (CEQA) environmental review.
“They’ve taken away our right to enact any type of restrictions,” said Councilman Nehrenheim. “It’s completely unusual and it’s completely wrong. One more chip in the armor of local control. Once again the state is overriding us.”
He suggested that if the city made the decision, a project like this would go in a different location.
“Not so abutted up against R1 (residential zoning) and apartments,” Nehrenheim said. “It would be a different conversation.”
He also questions the nature of how this matter came before the city council.
“Our city attorney has put us in a box,” he said, noting the choice Nov. 9 was to support it, not support it, or be apathetic. “So we don’t become adversaries to the county, or Century.”
The council’s unanimous vote in November, in the end, gives it some input on the project.
“If we didn’t (submit the statement of interest), Century could put people in there we wouldn’t know about,” said City Attorney Webb. “Now, we can work with Harbor Interfaith (which runs the pallet shelter) to make preferences for people from Redondo Beach. Ideally, it would be people from the pallet shelter who have done well. We could have not done anything Nov. 9 and we wouldn’t have a say at all.”
Federal Section 8 housing money covers the difference in fair market rent value for Permanent Supportive Housing.
Total funding for the Moonstone comes from state Homekey dollars, and county funding through the American Rescue Plan.
Homekey is operated by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.
“This is not a shelter, this is not a drop-in center. We’re turning this into an apartment community,” D’Andrea said. “This is a special apartment building for people that have previously experienced homelessness. The intention is to create a path to move out of the pallet shelter to Moonstone on PCH.”
Remodeling work at the former hotel – to add kitchenettes, etc. – is expected to begin this summer, with full occupancy by the end of the year.
Many comments at Nehrenheim’s June 11 meeting were distinctly against the project.
“I understand that this is new to people, that there is anxiety, frustration and concern,” D’Andrea said.
He noted it was “the first of multiple meetings,” saying that Century has contacted the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce/Leadership Redondo, Rotary, the police department, local churches and more.
“Our name is attached to this, I accept, we accept, we are going to have to earn your trust,” D’Andrea said.
Moonstone’s fnancing is part of more than $2 billion made available from the state since last year for these projects.
The city council knew the location in question at the time of the Nov. 9 vote.
With a residential neighborhood on the other side of its back wall, the former motel is set to become subsidized housing to help the formerly homeless. Photo by Garth Meyer
Century Housing Corporation, based in Culver City, was formed in 1995, the non-profit an extension of what was originally a public housing agency.
Century has developed 22 Permanent Supportive Housing properties like this, representing 2,100 units, including conversion of former Naval housing in Long Beach, home to 700 veterans, to its current work to convert the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus by Westwood, into 1,700 units for veterans.
The Pacific Coast Inn/Moonstone would be the first in the beach communities.
“This is our mission. We were formed to create affordable housing,” D’Andrea said.
Why Redondo Beach?
“The city council seemed receptive to it. The city has already taken steps,” said D’Andrea, noting the pallet shelter project and hiring Lila Omura in the new position of Homeless Housing Navigator, at the start of this year.
An estimated 200 people attended the June 11 meeting at Alta Vista, many questioning how this came about, why they were not informed earlier and why the city has little say.
“We have 25 years of experience under our belts doing exactly these kinds of projects,” said D’Andrea.
He said that evictions are rare in PSH.
Not to be Venice
The most recent homeless count of Redondo Beach was 176 people, in 2020. A new count was done earlier this year, with results expected in July.
City Attorney Webb described Redondo Beach citizens’ concern about the Moonstone project.
“They picture Venice, and they understandably don’t want Venice here,” he said. “But ironically,
the steps we’re taking are what will help us prevent becoming like Venice.”
D’Andrea points out that Redondo Beach not only contributes no funding, but could save money on ambulance services, police and emergency room visits for homeless people.
“Those systems are very, very expensive,” he said. “The city is already experiencing a crisis. This is a way of doing something productive and differently – a proven intervention, that helps people get well and healthy.”
D’Andrea, with an MBA from UCLA, has worked for Century since 2006.
“I knew I wanted to work in real estate and I knew I wanted to make a difference,” he said.
As for whether City Attorney Webb boxed-in the city council, he begs to differ.
“It’s completely false that I put them in a box,” said Webb. “Now that Nils has controversy, he has started to point fingers, which is not a new phenomenon for him.”
Other city council members have given their support.
“You either live with the homeless people… or you fix the problem, and this is fixing the problem,” said Councilwoman Laura Emdee.
“This is for people who have lived well in a temporary shelter and showed promise,” said Councilman Zein Obagi, Jr. “Frankly, (the building) is way nicer than it was as a motel. Look at how the pallet shelter has gone. There’s been little police calls, etc.”
No work has yet been done to convert the Pacific Inn property, though the motel had undergone previous improvements.
At the Nov. 9 vote, Nehrenheim had concerns then, he said, while the project was far from certain.
“(Century) was putting in a grant, we were not even sure they were going to get the grant,” he said. “We were very, very preliminary.”
He noted his top misgivings as site security and the type of people who would live at the Moonstone.
“A multitude of concerns at that time,” Nehrenheim said. “We’re stripped of any oversight… It was premature for our city attorney to bring this to us. Because they hadn’t been approved by the county to be a local partner.”
The council’s vote was three days before a deadline for Century to apply for L.A. County’s requests for statements of interest.
Nehrenheim noted that he respects Century’s work.
“This is a very responsible brand that has done a lot of these type of projects,” he said of Century. “There’s still no real avenues for us to make any demands, but they want to be good, local partners. They’ve made no indication they are not willing.”
Nehrenheim wants to be sure that people who live at the Moonstone have connections to Redondo Beach, as is the case at the pallet shelter.
He also wants to be assured of site security, safety and “surrounding impacts” such as parking, noise, “people walking around… and spillover into the neighborhood.”
The key point, Nehrenheim said, is that Century has bought the site but they haven’t programmed it yet.
“My concern is 20 years from now,” he said. “My goal is that it doesn’t become a detractor for our community here. Success will be a year from now when it’s full and people have forgotten it’s there. In 20 years, it’s still full, people still don’t know it’s there, it’s a well-kept facility.”
The state funding agreement requires the Moonstone to be in operation within one year of the March 14 grant date.
Five years’ funding is in place.
“We are hoping to secure an allocation of project-based vouchers which would serve as the long- term rental subsidy,” said D’Andrea.
Nehrenheim’s next constituents’ meeting, June 27 online, is to feature representatives from State Sen. Ben Allen’s office, a representative from Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi’s office and D’Andrea.
“We want to be a good neighbor, we’re in this for the long haul,” D’Andrea said. “These are brothers and sisters and children… there’s lots of reasons why people end up homeless.”
In the end, he wants Redondo Beach to know that Permanent Supportive Housing is different than transitional housing or a shelter.
“This is not a program. It’s an apartment building that happens to come with certain amenities for people who need it,” D’Andrea said. ER