EL CENTRO — Affordable housing in the form of a converted Days Inn is one step closer to hitting El Centro with the Imperial County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a resolution Tuesday, Jan. 25, to submit a joint application with Pacific Southwest Community Development Corporation and Imperial Housing Coalition to apply for the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Homekey Program funds for about $18 million.
Imperial Housing Coalition founder and co-owner of Duggins Construction, Ray Roben, addressed the board to explain the project details.
The proposed project would convert the Days Inn located at 611 North Imperial Avenue in El Centro into permanent housing with on-site services for residents, similar to the conversion of Hollie’s Hotel in Calexico last March. The El Centro project targets individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness and would convert the Days Inn into a 50-unit Single-Room Occupancy (SRO) with a community center for residents to use for gatherings and to receive supportive services, including behavioral health and case management services.
“This is not going to create more homelessness in the area. We picked this area strategically because the city of El Centro has been working with a for-profit developer … and in this exact area … they’ve been converting all of the old hotels to living for low-income,” said Roben. “It’s just that these low-income are market rate and these people have to pay whatever the market takes it — $500 to $700. The very low-income people cannot afford to go there so this funding that’s available now, not later … to create studio or SRO units, of the lowest of the income.”
The proposed site is located near grocery stores, public transportation, and other community amenities, leading to some public concern as voiced as public comments during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting.
Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers and Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business Executive Director Shelby Trimm commended the board for it’s efforts in developing affordable housing projects but expressed disappointment at the lack of communication with residents and local business owners regarding their possible new neighbors. It was stated that most individuals present for the meeting only knew of the project after reading it in the newspaper on Sunday, Jan. 23.
“First I want to applaud the County of Imperial for seeking funds to help the homeless population. This really is a crisis and I thank you all for finding ways to help alleviate this,” Trimm said. “The complaint that I have today is a lack of outreach done by the County to local businesses in the neighborhood … I don’t think it’s right to bring this before the board without any prior outreach being done. I understand there’s a tight deadline and that might have prohibited some sort of outreach from taking place, but local businesses still need to be considered before making such a big decision. We’re almost two years into the pandemic and these businesses are barely holding on as it is, so please don’t vote for something that will impact them further without their consideration.”
Express Lube owner, Jennifer Slifka, expressed concern for the proposed location of the project considering how close it is to her business.
“As a woman-owned, small business, I understand completely the homeless situation, I get it. But after the 7/11 came in, as you can tell, more of the homeless people are venturing over this way,” Slifka said. “Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had to endure human feces on my property that my employees have to pick, that I have to pick up. We have had items left behind from the homeless — syringes, all that stuff … I also have had an increase in break-ins … This is not a situation that you want to put businesses into or employees into. I just ask that you ask the other businesses around here and do a little bit more research before you go forward with this because this is the main corridor of Imperial County.”
Roben addressed the board with disappointment in the lack of support and his frustrations of pushing a project that seems to be dead upon arrival.
“They fund it upfront so that we have the money in the account so that we can provide all of these operating subsidies that we’re talking about so that we can provide service to these people that are described of (defecating) on the street or breaking things,” said Roben. “That is specifically what this program is for and in no way will this ever degrade the corridor of El Centro …”
Roben pleaded for locals to go see the Calexico project and the benefit he said it has brought to that city. He also advised locals to speak with the Calexico City Council members and the law enforcement to hear testimony regarding how the project has cleaned up that area of the city.
Another point in question was the $18-million price tag. It was later explained that the applicants are required to submit an application that is double the actual cost of the project to negate the need to ask for additional funds down the line in the case of going over budget. The actual cost of the proposed project ballparks $9 million.
The project went to the board in a sense of urgency due to the Jan. 31, deadline to submit an application to the state. However, the board’s approval of the resolution is not an approval of the overall project itself. The board’s approval committed the Imperial County Social Services Department to partner with developers. This allows social services to begin applying for funding. The project will still need approval from the El Centro City Council before work can begin.