Santa Clara County paid $13,000 a day to house homeless after project delay
The Second Street Studios, located at South Second Street and Keyes, is a 135 unit affordable housing project. Photo courtesy of First Community Housing.

Downtown San Jose’s first long-term affordable housing development, Second Street Studios, is set to open this month, but unexpected delays forced Santa Clara County to pay up to $1.15 million in motel costs for the future residents.

The first-of-its kind project — meant to address the growing homelessness crisis — will house 134 individuals, considered some of the most vulnerable, chronically homeless and disabled residents in the county.

Those residents were expected to move in around Nov. 2018, but construction delays prolonged the opening of the project for about six months. In the meantime, taxpayers had to foot the bill of housing future residents of Second Street Studios in motels, costing around $100 per individual — or an equivalent of about $13,000 a day.

“All of the delays are related to construction,” said Ky Le, director of the county’s Office of Supportive Housing.

The developer and general contractor have experienced challenges with installing the new modular buildings, intended to be more ecologically efficient and reduce waste. Rain, according to Le, also contributed to the delay.

“We’re doing something innovative, and that takes time,” said Geoffrey Morgan, president and CEO of First Community Housing, the developer that oversees the project. Morgan said “everyone’s been working overtime trying to get it done.” The final details include cement sidewalks, the plastering of the stairwells and final county and city inspections of the building before it’s approved for use. The grand opening is scheduled for the first weekend of May, but Morgan hopes that the site will be up and running a couple of weeks before then.

As the Bay Area’s housing crisis worsens, some say that finding long-term solutions may result in extra costs.

“This is typical, very very typical,” said Morgan. “It’s choreographing a lot of activity and including a lot of players.”

Morgan acknowledged that the motel costs are “substantial,” but said many chronically homeless individuals are coming from hospitals such as the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, where they received treatment for conditions resulting in “thousands of thousands of dollars” for taxpayers.

Morgan added that each unhoused individual costs an average of $70,000 in public dollars per year. The Second Street Studios, he said, will save about $50,000 per person by providing medical and social services on site.

The five story, 100,000-square-foot housing complex will also provide case managers, medical and mental health professionals and a “wellness” peer who was formerly homeless, according to Vivian Wan, associate director of mental health provider Abode Services.

Wan said developers, mental health providers and government officials are working together to build Second Street Studios as a modern, sustainable facility that includes amenities such as a computer lab, shared kitchen, gym and internet access.

According to Wan, the construction delays have kept people in hotels much longer than expected. While the motel costs are high, she said, putting people back on the streets was not an option.

“Once people were in motels we didn’t want to kick people out,” said Wan. “We don’t want to break the trust before the project begins. We want to be supportive from the very beginning.”

The Office of Supportive Housing assesses the vulnerability of the Second Street Studios residents based on factors such as health conditions and history of homelessness.

“The journey for each person will be different, but Second Street Studios provides the foundation,” Le said. “We can’t alter what has happened, but we’re hoping that Second Street Studios will alter how each person’s story ends.”

But the homeless crisis is nowhere near solved. The Office of Supportive Housing’s census data in 2017 estimated that there were more than 7,300 homeless in Santa Clara County, where nearly 75% of those individuals remain unhoused. Past census data reports indicate that this number has continued to grow.

“It’s always frustrating with delays but the big picture is that this will be available to meet the needs of the community for decades to come,” added Wan. “In the long term a few months isn’t going to make a difference. Santa Clara County has a huge problem to solve and they’re putting their resources in the right places.”

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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