California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a $200 million budget to address homelessness in California Wednesday, including a $4.9 million allocation to convert the Super 8 motel on University Ave. into permanent housing, according to a press release from the office of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.
The converted motel will house 72 people, according to Arreguín’s press release Thursday.
In the press release, Arreguín credited state funding for the city’s continued efforts to reduce the unhoused population, and noted the city’s success in reducing homelessness.
“Homelessness continues to plague communities across the Bay Area, but Berkeley is one of the few that is getting results,” Arreguín said in the press release. “We are on track to deliver further reductions in our unhoused population, and that’s a result of support and funding like this from the state.”
Stefan Elgstrand, assistant to the mayor, noted that Berkeley is seeing results because the city “know(s) that housing is the solution to homelessness,” adding that Arreguín established the STAIR Center in Berkeley, the East Bay’s first Navigation Center.
With a “Housing First” approach, Berkeley has established low-barrier shelters that have been replicated around the East Bay due to the approach’s success, according to Elgstrand.
Elgstrand acknowledged that rental assistance programs’ expansion due to the COVID-19 pandemic acted as a preventative measure for those potentially facing homelessness.
“Providing assistance to those on the verge of homelessness has prevented new people from entering homelessness, and once someone enters homelessness, it becomes much more difficult to get their housing back,” Elgstrand said.
From 2019-22, homelessness in Berkeley decreased 5%, despite a 22% increase throughout Alameda County, according to Elgstrand.
Elgstrand noted that this was due to the 2016 passage of Measure P, which utilizes tax revenue to fund projects that improve homeless services in the city.
According to Elgstrand, the city staff who are responsible for addressing homelessness have been working to identify specific neighborhoods with large unhoused populations that could benefit most from the program.
Though some areas have been already identified, Elgstrand could not share those specific locations.
According to Elgstrand, he believes residents of the converted housing program will not pay rent, although the program details are still being “sorted out” and cannot yet be confirmed.
In conjunction with funding from Measure P and the city, the converted motel will be kept open for four years. However, the future of the housing following this timeline is uncertain.
“It’s too early to speculate at this time,” Elgstrand said.
He added that Berkeley City Council is expected to vote to accept Gov. Newsom’s grant July 11.
The meeting will also cover the approval to lease with Insight Housing, the organization that will operate the converted shelter.