NEWARK — The Newark City Council approved a plan Thursday to apply for a $39 million state grant to convert a hotel in the city to permanent housing for people who are homeless, over the objections of about two dozen residents who said they fear the plan will hurt their home values and make their neighborhood unsafe.
Some said they are worried children at nearby schools could be accommodated by homeless people, and about the mental stability of the future residents, among other concerns.
Resident Alan Chi said he supports the idea of using the building for low-income housing, possibly for teachers and restaurant workers in the city, but said providing housing for homeless people would just increase the number of homeless people in the city.
“We should not be flooding the streets of Newark, a tiny city, with hundreds of homeless people,” Chi said.
“Newark is perfectly fine as it is. You guys are inviting trouble. If you haven’t seen trouble, just go to Union Square, just go to Turk Street, just go to the Tenderloin. Just go to see the overpass between Berkeley and Oakland. That’s what you’re inviting. Because the more services you provide, the more will come,” Chi said.
Another man, whose name was not available from the city Friday, said, “We are really scared if such homeless people are walking the streets. Some of them have drug abuse problems and they look really scary, even for adults,” he said.
He said a project like this should be placed “on the outskirts of the city, instead of right in the middle of housing.”
Resident Charles Chen said giving homeless people jobs is a better way to help them, instead of providing them housing.
“We need to provide them jobs and let them know they can work for themselves, and they can stand, they can just survive in society in their own way. I would root for them if we had a job provided to them,” Chen said.
Louis Chicoine, the head of the Fremont nonprofit supportive housing provider Abode Services, which would be managing the building, said during the meeting that housing people first is the most effective way to help them succeed.
“People are really strving to better their lives, and they can’t really do a very good job of that without a home. If you have a home that is managed well, which this will be, and you have services, then you can get out there and get back into the economy and put your life together,” he said.
Newark city staff and Abode are hoping to be able to purchase the 125-room TownePlace Suites hotel at 39802 Cedar Blvd. and convert all but two of the rooms to permanent apartments for homeless people, and people earning 30% or less of the area median income.
In Newark, 30% of the median is roughly $29,000 annually for a single person, and it’s about $41,000 for a family of four, according to Alameda County and federal data.
Two of the hotel rooms would be used for a manager’s housing and a resident services office, city reports said.
The council also approved chipping in $6 million of its own money — about $4.5 million from its affordable housing funds supported by new development, and $1.5 million from its share of American Rescue Plan Act funds, to help support the project if the city receives the grant .
Some residents supported the project, including a woman named Nicole, who said when she first moved to Newark, she would have been considered low income, and would have appreciated more affordable housing opportunities.
“I hope our Newark community can really pull together to be supportive. I think some of the commentary tonight is based out of fear and not out of fact. I would be happy to have this development happen,” she said, noting she lives nearby the hotel.
Theresa Ballard Dias, a former city planning commissioner and former board member of Abode, said she lives nearby and supports the project.
“There is a trend in Newark to feel like we’re a small town and like these problems are big-city problems that aren’t our problems, and that’s just simply not true. Homelessness is all of our problems,” she said.
“Those problems don’t get better unless we actually provide those people with a home and with security,” she said. “The only way to deal with homelessness is homes.”
City and Abode staff said in interviews that the hotel is well-suited for a Homekey project, because the building is in good shape, and all the rooms already have kitchens and other amenities needed for a permanent home, which would make the conversion quicker.
In trying to address worries from residents about potential crime, Chicoine said all the tenants will have leases like any other apartment renters and will need to follow house rules, and pay part of the rent to stay in good standing.
Chicoine said the building will have five staff members working to manage it and provide services to all residents, including job referral and placement, and connections to mental health counseling or drug programs, if needed.
Chicoine addressed some of the mental health concerns raised by some callers at the meeting.
“It breaks my heart the sort of fear people have about that. Mental health is in our community; all over the place people are really struggling,” Chicoine said.
Mayor Al Nagy said Abode is a “premier” nonprofit with a good track record in the affordable housing field, and expressed support for the project.
“If we do nothing as a city, if we do nothing as a society, then problems will get worse,” Nagy said. “This is our opportunity, in the community of Newark, to do our fair share to help end homelessness.”