MILPITAS – More than 100 Milpitas citizens asked county and city leaders Sunday to include their voices in an upcoming development to shelter Santa Clara County’s homeless next to a family-oriented neighborhood known as Hillview.
Plans to turn the city’s Extended Stay America hotel into long-term housing for homeless residents under the state’s $600 million Project Homekey have faced a backlash in Milpitas. Residents said Sunday that they had been left out of the process.
“We didn’t have a say,” said Suraj Viswanathan, who helped organize the rally at Cesar Chavez Plaza in front of Milpitas City Hall.
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After a half-dozen people addressed the group, residents got in their cars and drove to different neighborhoods to distribute petitions and flyers that addressed their concerns.
The hotel planned to become home to 132 people is located on the southern border of a neighborhood that is sandwiched between a park and green space and Interstate 680.
The protestors said that they want to help solve the complicated issues of homelessness in California and the country, adding that they are not against sharing Hillview with former homeless people.
Andre Krammer told the audience, though, that the problem will not be solved by “throwing a bunch of money at it and then walking away.”
The uproar led Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran last week to threaten to sue the state, the county, and anyone else involved in moving the project forward.
Santa Clara County was granted $29.2 million to convert Extended Stay America into 132 permanent homes under the governor’s program. County officials have said some of the units will be used to house people who became homeless as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Project Homekey fund, spearheaded by Gov. Gavin Newsom, is a mix of federal and state money intended to help cities and counties buy hotels, apartments and other buildings to address the growing homeless crisis in the Golden State.
“It’s an event that should really be celebrated because we don’t see these opportunities come around that often,” said Ray Bramson, chief operating officer of Destination: Home, a Santa Clara County homeless advocacy group.
Bramson said the Milpitas project is an extension of the county’s effort after the 2016 passage of Measure A, the affordable housing bond. He said 27 new developments in seven cities have been started.
“Within a couple of months we’re going to have 132 new homes in a type of housing that we know works extremely well to end people’s homelessness,” Bramson said. “And it cost the city of Milpitas absolutely nothing.”
But residents who demonstrated Sunday said they are upset that the county, and not Milpitas, will determine who is placed in their neighborhood.
“It doesn’t make sense to have this shelter one minute from a liquor store,” Krammer said. “It doesn’t make sense to have this shelter a two- or three-minute walk from a children’s playground.”
He added that the city needs to have more oversight on who is moving in as well as have a plan for how to deal with drug and alcohol addiction issues that may arise among tenants.
Demetress Morris, a write-in candidate for Milpitas City Council, said she hoped that 75 percent of the units will be given to the unhoused in Milpitas.
“We owe it to them to support our residents during these hard times,” she said.
Tran’s threat of litigation extends an ongoing dispute playing out against the backdrop of a severe affordable housing shortage in California. For years, city officials who want to retain control over what gets built in their neighborhoods have sparred with state legislators who try to force cities to approve more housing.
Bramson, of Destination: Home, said he has witnessed similar concerns in the two decades he has worked as a homeless advocate.
“I’m always a little discouraged people don’t see the value of developments like this but I know they will come around,” Bramson said.