Community Development Partners is converting a motel on East First Street in Santa Ana into The Orchard, to house chronically homeless individuals and families. (Photo by Ken Steinhardt, Orange County Register/SCNG)
SANTA ANA – A motel converted into the first large-scale permanent supportive housing project in Santa Ana stands as a model for finding a solution to chronic homelessness in the county, city officials and service providers say.
The Guest Inn and Quality Suites, at 2151 E. First St., may look like a motel from the outside, but since spring has had a 60 percent occupancy rate of formerly homeless individuals and families, many of them from the Civic Center.
Community Development Partners, a private company that purchased the motel in December, has left it 40 percent vacant because it is about to renovate the brick, brown and mustard building into a wooden, more modern design.
With 71 units, The Orchard, as the $18 million housing project is being renamed, is one of the largest projects providing housing for homeless people in the county, said Santa Ana Councilman Vincent Sarmiento, who represents the ward where it is located.
“Many hotels and motels throughout the county are underperforming and have become blighted and served out their purpose,” Sarmiento said. “This was a great opportunity to use this site and its amenities to provide these resources and this ‘Housing First’ model with wraparound services.”
Under the Housing First approach, homeless people receive assistance in finding and maintaining housing as quickly as possible, with typical barriers to entry removed. The Orchard’s permanent supportive housing structure provides case management, along with substance abuse and other counseling services to residents.
The Orchard’s residents also will receive training in growing their own produce, which will be cooked in a kitchen on site.
City Council members in March unanimously awarded the site with 71 project-based vouchers totaling $998,496 annually for 15 years to assist tenants with rent. In June, the City Council unanimously awarded an additional $1.2million from the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the largest federal block grant to state and local governments to create affordable housing.
After receiving both awards, the developer was approved to convert the motel into permanent supportive housing.
Santa Ana’s Housing Division Manager Judson Brown said there isn’t a specific policy or goal to make such conversions but that the city was “very supportive.”
Mercy House Executive Director Larry Haynes said his nonprofit has provided services at permanent supportive housing, often with just a handful of units in a complex. A dedicated project such as The Orchard can be even more beneficial to vulnerable populations, he said.
“The more we are able to do things this way, the less expensive it is and the more effective our case management team can be,” Haynes said.
Community Development Partners plans to renovate The Orchard in phases, moving tenants as necessary as crews work through each of the five two-story buildings.
“It was really important that we were able to provide a product that the community can be proud of and of course a place the residents are now calling home, pulling themselves up and improving their life,” said Eric Paine, CEO of Community Development Partners.
The Newport Beach-based company was interested in purchasing the motel because many of the units already had kitchens, Paine said. A few tenants living at the motel on a long-term basis were allowed to stay.
Construction is expected to begin in December and wrap up by August for full occupancy.
Roughly 50 units are intended for people coming from the Civic Center, Haynes said. Tenants will pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward rent, though income is not a requirement for housing.
“With more of these types of projects, we can demonstrate that we will be able to end homelessness in Orange County,” Haynes said. “This is the secret sauce, this is the formula.”
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