It’s a beautiful spot to live or visit.
The Pacific Ocean, pizza and frozen yogurt are all within an easy walk. And it’s right on a major Metro bus line that runs through the center of the South Bay’s beach cities.
A studio apartment at 716 S. Pacific Coast Highway, in South Redondo Beach, would be an ideal home for any single person.
But it has also become a local flashpoint amid ongoing efforts to solve the regional and statewide housing crisis. That’s because plans are in the works to convert the 20-unit Pacific Coast Inn into transitional housing for those who are homeless.
That project — construction on which is expected to begin soon, with folks moving in sometime this fall — is set to be the South Bay’s first motel conversion funded by Homekey, a California Department of Housing and Community Development program.
Nearby South Redondo residents, however, have criticized the project for being in a pricey area and close to a school. The developer and government officials have defended the state-funded project, saying it will help get people off the streets and, eventually, into permanent housing.
“This is not a shelter, not a drop in, not a halfway house,” said Brian D’Andrea, senior vice president for developer Century Housing Corporation.
Since last year, Homekey has made $1.4 billion in grants available for cities and counties to work with private developers to turn under-used, existing properties into housing for those who are homeless.
During the first round of funding, the state grants went to mostly Northern California. But now, with the second round awarded earlier this year, there are a total of 18 Homekey sites throughout Los Angeles County. Of those 18, the county is acting as the government agency on 11 of them. The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles is responsible for five and two individual cities make up the other two.
That state money funded the $6.3 million purchase of The Pacific Coast Inn. Century Housing Corporation, along with LA County, paid a bit below the asking price for the property, which was listed at $6.6 million.
What concerns neighbors, though, is that the motel is in the heart of the community, surrounded by multimillion dollar condos and just three blocks from Tulita Elementary School, said Mindy Czuleger, whose parents live around the corner on Knob Hill Avenue.
And that yogurt shop, she said, is a popular hang out for children after school.
“You don’t know what element they’re going to bring,” Czuleger said about future residents. “Rules don’t matter.”
Czuleger, the granddaughter of a popular former Redondo Beach mayor, Bill Czuleger, also said residents have been blindsided. More than 100 of them turned up at a recent community meeting and grilled Councilman Nils Nehrenheim and D’Andrea.
“All of us are up in arms because we just didn’t know about it,” Czuleger said in an interview last week.
The Redondo Beach City Council unanimously approved a statement of interest in the project during its Nov. 9 meeting. Though the agenda specified only a South Redondo Beach location, councilmembers knew the address of the motel, Nehrenheim said.
But the deadline for submission by the county and developer was just three days away, on Nov. 12. With the deadline looming, councilmembers said they felt they had no choice but to rubber stamp the item, Nehrenheim said.
For those who want local control over housing, Homekey is problematic. Because of its emergency nature and ties to federal coronavirus recovery money, its projects are exempt from any environmental review.
But by Homekey standards, the Redondo Beach project is relatively small. Some of the LA County projects have as many as 100 units.
The small project will give Redondo Beach residents a look at how a continuum-of-care situation can work in getting people off the streets and into permanent housing, D’Andrea said.
And that’s the goal, D’Andrea said.
Residents at the newly dubbed Moonstone will be expected to pay rent and respect neighbors. An array of supportive services will also be available on-site to help new tenants, D’Andrea said.
Nehrenheim said he hopes Moonstone gives priority to struggling folks with family ties to Redondo Beach. That could be someone who graduated from Redondo Union High School or a local veteran with PTSD who has fallen on hard times, the councilman said.
For someone sleeping in a tent or on a park bench, Nehrenheim said, the Pallet shelter in North Redondo Beach is the first stop. Then, once a Pallet resident can commit to rehabilitation and has a steady job, they will move into Moonstone’s supportive housing.
“I really want people to understand that this is for veterans,” Nehrenheim said, “for people on Section 8 housing, people who have had issues with domestic violence and people who might be living in their cars.”
Czuleger, though, said she’s concerned about the program’s ability to evict a problem tenant.
But, D’Andrea said, his company will not accept or tolerate criminal activity on its premises. If someone crosses the line, he said, they will be evicted.
He pointed to his company’s track record as developer/operator of Long Beach’s Century Villages at Cabrillo, where 97% of its nearly 2,000 residents were still housed after the one-year mark in 2020, D’Andrea said.
D’Andrea said he understands why Redondo Beach neighbors have concerns, but he asked the community for “a little bit of trust.” Things will go easier if his company can partner with the community, he said.
“The fear that we’ll be serving criminals and drug-crazed addicts is ill-founded,” D’Andrea said. “Our name is attached to this. We are highly motivated to be successful here.”
Besides the $5.9 million Homekey grant to buy the property, the state has allotted Century and LA County an additional $1.4 million toward operating expenses. That money, D’Andrea said, will be supplemented with Measure H funds from the county to subsidize an individual’s rent.
Typically, residents will pay via a Section 8 voucher, which requires they pay no more than 30% of their income in rent. The rest of the tab for a studio apartment at fair market value for the area is covered by the operating subsidy, D’Andrea said.
But, Czuleger said, if the studio apartments are a stepping stone to long-term housing, how will someone paying only 30% of their income afford their next place in pricey Redondo?
Czuleger also questions what will happen once the operating subsidy runs out.
“Everything sounds good when you’re doing the eight-clap and cheering,” she said. “They don’t think things through.”
For Century and LA County, though, time is running out. The Homekey guidelines specify they must have the Moonstone fully leased within eight months from the award date. The clock started ticking, D’Andrea said, on March 14.
Fortunately, the motel’s previous owner had recently refreshed the units. The conversion plans call for adding kitchenettes to each apartment and creating a community space in the center of the complex. A two-bedroom, single family unit will be converted to a one-bedroom, where an on-site manager will live. Two offices for supportive services will be added to that, D’Andrea said.
“We see ourselves as long-term neighbors here,” D’Andrea said about establishing a relationship with the community.
Besides forging partnerships with the City Council, D’Andrea said, he’s also working with Leadership Redondo, the local chamber of commerce and the Police Department.
Another important partner, he said, will be Harbor Interfaith Services. Transitional support services will be handled by Century, as well as through Harbor Interfaith — which has more than four decades of experience working with South Bay homeless populations.
“Our experience in Long Beach has taught us that it take a village,” D’Andrea said. “We want to make this something the community can be proud about.”
Nehrenheim will hold an online community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 27. Register here at bit.ly/3N47JIV.