Ventura eyes hotels for housing

Ventura County will pay $210,000 a month to rent the entire Vagabond Inn. (Photo by Alex Wilson)

Ventura’s La Quinta Inn near Victoria Avenue and Valentine Road might be converted into permanent supportive housing for unsheltered people and those at risk of losing their homes.

City officials said the Housing Authority of the City of San Buenaventura has entered into an option to buy the three-story hotel for about $30 million. The agency is still lining up funding sources for the project and officials are hoping to receive money from California’s Homekey program that’s being used to convert hotels and other existing buildings into housing statewide.

Homekey money totaling $27 million has already been approved to convert a former Quality Inn in Thousand Oaks into 77 units of permanent supportive housing which is set to open in the fall, county officials said. Two other projects to address homelessness are planned in Oxnard and should create a total of 125 units by mid-2024.

The move to convert Ventura County hotels into permanent housing comes at a time when officials are also wrapping up the temporary shelter program known as “Project Roomkey” that’s allowed people to live in hotels since the start of the pandemic, and was originally intended to keep people isolated and stop the spread of the coronavirus. At the height of the Roomkey program more than 800 people were provided rooms in Ventura County and about 250 people currently remain sheltered in hotels funded by Roomkey money, officials said.

But funding options are changing now that pandemic emergency declarations are ending and federal money to support the Roomkey program is running out. County officials are looking to fund the program with other sources including money from the state, but it’s unclear how much longer those funding sources will be available.

The Vagabond Inn at 756 East Thompson Boulevard and adjacent Best Western Plus Inn have been utilized by Project Roomkey since 2020, but county officials said they are now working to consolidate all the people into just the Vagabond Inn, so that the Best Western can be renovated and return to serving the needs of short-term guests.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted on Feb. 28 to lease out the entire Vagabond Inn for a cost of $210,000 a month for all 82 rooms, so that the Roomkey program can continue there for at least another six months. The lease is for one year but has a clause allowing the county to terminate the lease after six months, which could depend on the availability of funding.

Jennifer Harkey is program director for Ventura County Continuum of Care, which manages federal and state funding to address and prevent homelessness and operates several programs including emergency shelters, permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and street outreach. She told the Ventura County Reporter that about 50 people living at the downtown Ventura hotels will soon be asked to leave, and the rooms provided in the future will be reserved for the most vulnerable people.

“Many people who are currently staying there have health conditions like cancer or they’re on dialysis. They have, you know, lung or heart conditions,” Harkey said. “And so we’re talking [about] people who really couldn’t survive on the street because of their vulnerabilities. And so they really do need placement and the support.”

On March 3 the Ventura County Reporter spoke with some of the people living at the Vagabond Inn, including a man around 60 years old who said he lived in a Volkswagen van for about seven years prior to the pandemic and will soon have to leave the hotel and go back to living in his battered gray van.The man did not want his name published in the newspaper, but said he worked full time as a surveyor before a mountain climbing accident left him permanently disabled and unable to work. Even as he was making preparations to leave his hotel home, he said he was grateful for the opportunity to stay there for more than two years.

“For me it was a godsend. I got COVID initially and was in the ICU for, like, 17 days, and I was iffy,” he said. “So for me, it’s been awesome.”

The man said he’s thankful for the assistance he’s received and is hoping his case workers can help him find someplace more permanent now that the Roomkey program is reaching its end.

“This program has gotten me back on my feet pretty much. And so they said that unfortunately the funding is running out so they’re trying to find some, but there’s a lot of people in my situation, I guess. So I was told I have to leave at the end of the month, but they’re trying to find me some housing someplace,” he said.

Leona Rollins has worked as housing services manager for the city of Ventura since last July and is involved with the plan to convert the La Quinta Inn into housing. Rollins said the plan calls for converting the 144-room hotel into 138 permanent supportive housing units.

“It’s going to have wraparound services, onsite case management, as well as onsite resident managers,” Rollins said. “We are hoping to utilize this particular space to help individuals who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness go into permanent supportive housing. So with those wraparound services, they can be successful in the long run in maintaining their housing.”

Rollins said for people who have been living on the streets for years, the new housing will make a big improvement in their lives.

“This is going to be a wonderful opportunity for them,” Rollins said. “It will be a place they can finally call their own home. They’ll be able to get wraparound services through case management systems, assistance with behavioral health issues, substance abuse issues. So it’s going to be more than just a home, but a place where they can, you know, land on their feet and just be successful in life in general.”