Americas Best Value Inn Corte Madera
Americas Best Value Inn Corte Madera — an 18-unit motel — is among the properties Project Homekey is targeting for homeless housing. The $800 million program expires at the end of the year.
(Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters)

Rehousing Wave ramping up efforts for the unhoused

In March, the county launched the “Rehousing Wave” program, offering landlords financial incentives to house community residents experiencing homelessness. Now, the county and program partners are ramping up their efforts, aiming to house over 300 households before June 2022.

Noting they are less than 20% of the way to their goal, Santa Cruz County officials and nonprofit groups say they are ramping up their efforts on a program that incentivizes landlords to provide housing for people dealing with homelessness.

In June, the county launched “Rehousing Wave,” recruiting landlords by way of:

  • Guaranteed on-time monthly payments through housing vouchers
  • Up to $1,000 in up-front signing bonuses
  • Long-term tenant and landlord support services

Those efforts came after the Board of Supervisors allocated approximately $8 million in March for the program, which aims to house more than 300 people by next June. The county started by focusing on people housed via Project Roomkey, and are looking to expand those efforts.

About six months after launch, the program has housed approximately 50 individuals, a sixth of its overall goal.

The background of the program, and looking forward

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of California worked to create house people in unused hotel rooms through Project Roomkey. Yet that program and its funding has been in limbo, leading advocates to seek a more permanent solution.

“We’ve got these households staying in the motels during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the county has been incredibly successful at keeping people safe,” said Jessica Scheiner, a senior human services analyst for the county. “But we want to support folks to move to permanent housing situations so they can stay safe and healthy and thrive.”

Thus — according to Robert Ratner, the director of the county’s Housing for Health division — the county needed to find more permanent housing opportunities, and find them fast.

“It’s taken a while to get things rolling, but there are a lot of exciting components,” he said.

As Scheiner said, “this is the most amazing package of resources and also the most amazing folks working on this … this is a phenomenal opportunity.”

What has the program accomplished so far?

Tom Stagg, the chief initiatives officer for Housing Matters — one of the Rehousing Wave partner organizations — said the program is working, partly based on previously established relationships.

“We have one-on-one partners in our staff who are able to work with them as they’re looking for units, moving in, signing leases, and continuing afterward to make sure people are able to stabilize,” he said.

It helps to develop more diverse neighborhoods in the county — the option to live in Santa Cruz County should be open to everyone.

Katie Fantin, the senior director of housing programs for Santa Clara County with Abode Services, agreed.

“It helps to develop more diverse neighborhoods in the county — the option to live in Santa Cruz County should be open to everyone,” she said.

Since Abode and Housing Matters began working on the program in April, Fantin said she’s been impressed by the county’s efforts. She believes the partnership can continue that trend of rehousing, especially for individuals who grew up in the local community.

“There are perceptions that people have about people experiencing housing crises as a tenant — we want to tell you the reality and what can be different,” she said. “Our job is to spend as much time reminding landlords that those perceptions aren’t always true.”

Ramping up efforts as the pandemic wanes

Recently, the county’s Housing Authority was able to secure 263 new emergency housing vouchers from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which allowed it to increase its reach.

With that, Stagg said Housing Matters and Abode Services have been able to focus more on landlord engagement, through a mix of direct phone calls, mailings and virtual meetings. On Nov. 3, the groups held their first in-person event for landlords since launch to learn more about Rehousing Wave, with 15 landlords in attendance.

“We at Housing Matters have been doing the housing search for many years, and we’re still uncovering landlords who don’t know about the services we provide,” Stagg said. “We’re still finding landlords who can use a little bit of extra help from our staff, to let them know what resources are available… It really is a unit-by-unit outreach that takes some time to establish those relationships and show the success of our programs.”

Landlord Pablo Vanwoerkom recently connected with the program through Abode Services, and said he is grateful to have the nonprofit team’s help to find an ideal tenant.

“It only took about two-and-a-half weeks to find a tenant together — having Abode’s support made the process very smooth and quick,” he said. “I think we all want to do something about the housing crisis, and this is a really good way for everyone to benefit.”

Thus far, the program has averaged between 10 to 15 households permanently housed per month since its launch. According to Ratner and Scheiner, the groups involved need to ramp up their efforts to hit their goal of about 300 households by June.

“To really support folks into moving into permanent housing and to support the entire community, we need more landlords to come forward,” Scheiner said. “This whole program is based on the private market — to achieve our goals, we really need the support of the rental community.”