San Jose homeless motel changes hands
SureStay Motel residents Martin Boone and Cheryl Fleming said San Jose tried its best to oversee the property, but they have seen many broken promises. File photo.

    Dirty water pouring out of faucets, and mold and holes in the ceiling have finally convinced San Jose to remove itself and a service provider from a hotel-turned-housing project.

    The Santa Clara County Housing Authority and Jamboree Housing Corporation are taking over the day-to-day services of SureStay Motel from the city and Abode Services, after residents dealing with years of decrepit living conditions reached a tipping point. During the transition, service provider LifeMoves will deliver needed resources to residents, such as case management. Residents are hopeful, but anxious about the changes, they told San José Spotlight.

    The SureStay Motel is one of San Jose’s first repurposed hotel projects purchased with nearly $12 million of Project Homekey dollars. It was designed to shelter homeless seniors and couples and provide services like food and case management to help residents transition to permanent housing. The city has been in charge of the operations while homeless service provider Abode Services handled case management and other resources. Residents have complained about the lack of services and attention to the crumbling property from the start.

    “We are going to start off by hearing out what (resident) concerns are,” Heather Griffin, LifeMoves’ Santa Clara County director of shelter and services, told San José Spotlight. “Our goal is to make sure that everyone feels safe, that they’re supported, that they’re receiving services tailored to their individual needs.”

    Griffin doesn’t know how long LifeMoves will be at the SureStay site, but expects to know more by the end of the year. She confirmed no residents will be asked to leave. LifeMoves operates a number of sites around San Jose.

    Jeff Scott, spokesperson for San Jose’s housing department, said the city doesn’t typically manage properties, which is why the Housing Authority is taking over. City officials also noted in a recent memo they do not have appropriate staffing levels to effectively maintain the property.

    The SureStay Motel in San Jose is changing hands to a partnership between the Santa Clara County Housing Authority and Jamboree Housing Corporation. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Transferring roles

    San Jose originally purchased the property at the peak of the pandemic in an effort to offer shelter and services to help unhoused residents. After two years, it became clear that managing a homeless shelter—a role typically reserved for nonprofits or Santa Clara County—was not in San Jose’s wheelhouse.

    “Our role is usually to help fund the construction or acquisition of residential properties. SureStay is no different,” Scott told San José Spotlight. “The Housing Authority is a longstanding and valued collaborator with the city. We know SureStay will be in great hands with such an experienced team.”

    When San Jose bought the hotel, it didn’t ask the owner for any improvements or renovations. Tenants who have lived there for two years said they continue to deal with rattling railings, bursting pipes, broken appliances, mold and roaches.There are holes underneath and around the staircase, unstable handrails and black water running from faucets. Ongoing problems that the city and Abode repeatedly promised to repair, homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said.

    A memo from the housing and economic development department said residents expressed concerns about Abode’s lack of responsiveness to issues at the site such as broken microwaves, unreliable cable and internet connections and inoperable door locks.

    Abode Services did not respond to requests for comment.

    After publication, Scott said Abode’s contract ended and the service provider chose not to bid for a new contract.

    A major hole under a staircase at SureStay Motel in San Jose has not been repaired in more than a year. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Homeless advocate Shaunn Cartwright said earlier in the year during a COVID-19 outbreak, Abode failed to provide masks, testing and other necessities to help residents weather through the surge. Cartwright said those with COVID still had to go to a common space to get food and that workers would not bring it to them.

    The city also violated a state agreement by trying to charge monthly rents that were too high to formerly unhoused residents living at the SureStay Hotel. The state intervened to stop the move.

    Making improvements

    Preston Prince, executive director of the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, said his team hopes to significantly improve the SureStay Motel.

    “The current conditions are not acceptable, so we (are figuring) out what’s the level of renovation (needed) based on the long-term goal,” Prince told San José Spotlight. “We’re going to come in with our own new set of expectations. And hopefully we’ll be able to learn the lessons from the past.”

    Prince said they are deciding whether to do major renovations on the existing site or purchase nearby sites and do major construction to expand it. The Housing Authority is currently in negotiations with nearby sites and hopes to have a clear timeline on next steps by the end of the year.

    It will be the Housing Authority’s second project in San Jose in partnership with Jamboree. This month, the duo got the green light from the San Jose City Council to transform the Pavilion Inn to housing for youth transitioning out of foster care, also using Project Homekey dollars.

    Cartwright said she hopes to see the city and incoming providers meet with residents soon because there is a lot of uncertainty in the air—especially since the LifeMoves contract has yet to start.

    “Things were so bad at this site, it’s kind of one of those things where you cannot go anywhere but up,” she said.

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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