Plan is to renovate property for use as a homeless center and low-income housing

PASO ROBLES — The Paso Robles City Council unanimously approved, during a special meeting Thursday, Oct. 29, the reallocation of a $1.5 million HEAP grant to the Housing Authority of San Luis Obispo to support renovating Motel 6 for use as a homeless services and low-income housing center.

Last week, HASLO, Peoples’ Self-Help Housing and ECHO secured a $15 million state project Homekey grant to purchase and renovate the 122-room Motel 6 located at 1134 Black Oak Dr. in Paso Robles. Escrow on the property is expected to close on Nov. 10.

The council vote was unanimous, 5-0, and included a list of stipulations.

• HASLO, PSSH, and ECHO will develop a memorandum of understanding with the City, formalizing program expectations and outlining each agency’s responsibilities in owning, operating, and maintaining an emergency shelter and low-cost housing center.

• The emergency shelter and low-cost housing center will be financially self-sufficient for at least 5 years after the program is initiated.

• ECHO will develop a memorandum of understanding with Paso Cares. This local nonprofit group has provided nightly meals to the hungry in Paso Robles and an emergency shelter when possible.

• HASLO, PSSH, and ECHO will initiate and carry out a comprehensive public information campaign.

• As required by the HEAP grant, all housing-related activities offered at the facility must comply or otherwise align with the Core Components of Housing First.

• ECHO will initiate programs at the facility during daytime hours to engage clients in productive activities that support the facility and encourage positive client behavior.

• Onsite staff will monitor the number of public safety and medical response calls at the facility for the first 12 months of operation.

• The facility will incorporate an array of security measures, including appropriate walls or fencing, security cameras, lighting, and removal of the existing swimming pool.

• ECHO will provide emergency beds beginning no later than Nov. 1, as a replacement for the Borkey Flats emergency campsite.

Representatives from HASLO, PSHH and ECHO participated in the special meeting and did not balk at the stipulations.

HASLO and PSHH plan to convert 63 rooms to permanent, low-income housing.

Fifty additional rooms will be leased to ECHO to provide emergency housing for homeless people in Paso Robles in what is for now being called the First Step program. This will not be a congregate or dormitory-style program like ECHO has in Atascadero, but it will mirror what ECHO provides there in terms of breadth of services.

The award comes from the state’s Homekey program, a follow-up to a program known as Project Roomkey that temporarily sheltered homeless people in hotel rooms.

A total of $600 million was set aside for Homekey, the majority of that funding, $550 million, comes from the state’s share of COVID-19 relief funding, and the rest comes from the state general fund. According to Newsom’s office, the funding was to help people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19.

The project does not need council approval. Gov. Newsom recently signed AB 83, providing land-use “streamlining” for projects awarded Homekey funds. Such projects are allowed “by-right” and are not subject to discretionary local permit review or approval process before proceeding with the project. Homekey projects are also California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exempt if they meet outlined requirements.

Initially, the state Homeless Emergency Aid Program (HEAP) funds were awarded to the City of Paso Robles in 2019 to build a homeless warming shelter on Sulphur Springs Road.

In April of 2019, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors voted in favor of the recommendation by the County Homelessness Oversight Council to award the City of Paso Robles a total of $1,508,923 in HEAP funds — $588,797 to subrecipient El Camino Homeless Organization of Atascadero to hire a case manager assigned to Paso Robles as well as making other enhancements to its current homeless shelter facility and program.

The remaining $920,126 was to be used by the City of Paso Robles to construct and operate an emergency warming center on Sulphur Springs Road.

The Sulphur Spring project was axed this year due to rising construction costs and requirements from Caltrans.

The design process for the Sulphur Springs warming center revealed significant shortfalls in the original budget estimate of just under $1 million to construct the center, with an updated cost estimate of nearly $2.7 million.

Additionally, estimates to construct a Caltrans-mandated pedestrian path to the site exceeded $2.5 million, bringing the project’s total cost to well over $5 million.

Faced with this extreme project budget shortfall and the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council voted to terminate plans for constructing a homeless services center at Sulphur Springs.

With the Sulphur Springs project halted, the City could either reallocate the HEAP funding to another homeless services project in Paso Robles or forfeit the funds to SLOCO for use elsewhere in the County.