The San Diego Housing Commission voted recently to buy two hotels to house homeless people now living in the temporary shelter in the Convention Center.

The plan to purchase Marriott Residence Inns in Mission Valley and Kearny Mesa for about $106.5 million comes from a variety of federal and state programs. Part will be from the state’s Project Homekey fund, money set aside for specifically housing homeless people at high risk of COVID-19.

The money is still taxpayer funds and being spent at a time when there is great economic need across the region.

Q: Is buying two hotels in San Diego County for homeless people a good use of funds?

Norm Miller, University of San Diego

NO: This works out to just under $360,000 per room, so it does not appear that these are distressed sale prices. If these were distressed sales, at lower prices, it would make more sense. Soon, there will be several hotels selling at distressed prices, so better deals will become available. At the same time, if this is grant money only available now, then I understand why the housing commission would view it as a one-time opportunity if waiting for better-priced deals is not possible.

Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions

YES: With the eventual closure of the Convention Center shelter site, there’s a need to temporarily house an estimated thousand homeless, especially during a pandemic. The purchase of two extended stay facilities that are in good condition, fully furnished, have common spaces available for services, and are ready for immediate occupancy should help. The process is getting done, from concept to actual occupancy, in less than a year, rather than a typical two to four years of development. Because of this the purchase of the hotels should be a more efficient use of taxpayer money to help address a significant ongoing regional issue.

David Ely, San Diego State University

YES: Under the plan, the funds would not be spent on goods and services that would be exhausted once consumed. Rather, in purchasing the hotels, the San Diego Housing Commission would be exchanging funds for long-lived assets that should retain value for many years. The availability of state funding to help cover the cost of the hotel acquisitions helps justify acting now to address a regional priority.

Ray Major, SANDAG

YES: A plan to solve homelessness in the region is desperately needed and must be well thought out. Purchasing hotels seems to be an expedient and cost-effective way to acquire immediate units given the funding coming from the state and federal governments. Purchasing too many hotels could be risky, however, as the long-term costs associated with managing and maintaining these properties is truly not yet understood.

Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation

YES: The San Diego Housing Commission’s hotel purchase is a sound approach to stem the county’s mounting homeless problem. The housing should be transitional, and residents should be provided case management and connections to supportive services. Also, a highly adequate security plan is paramount for the wellbeing of the residents and the community area. Though the commission’s effort is a good step, it does not overshadow the need for a permanent housing solution.

Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University

YES: Especially with the urgency of relocating the 1,000 people now sheltered in the Convention Center, the purchase of two mostly “move-in ready” housing properties appears to be a wise use of funds. Assuming an occupancy of at least 25 years by 400 various residents, the annual cost per person would be just $1,200. Even after minor repairs, costs would be much lower than if an entirely new structure had to be constructed.

Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research

YES: Seems better use and more appropriate to shelter homeless than warehousing in the enormous and expensive Convention Center. Converting hotels already having rooms will get available units faster and potentially at more reasonable cost than new construction. While convention business needs to ramp up as soon as possible, hotel operations will remain significantly diminished and likely take some time before returning to pre-pandemic demand levels. Perhaps at this point good timing to purchase underutilized properties.

Gary London, London Moeder Advisors

YES: I am in favor of most any idea to take people off of the streets. That said, many of these people need to be institutionalized or otherwise receive mental health, vocational and other forms of counseling and support. A housing program alone cannot begin to address the problem long term. If only motels are bought, this issue will continue to be an economic and moral drag on our society for years to come. The state and county need to step in with long term support of this kind.

Alan Gin, University of San Diego

YES: The county has a serious problem with homelessness, which is compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. If the money is available through federal and state programs, San Diego should take advantage of that. It would allow the Convention Center to be freed up and it would put to use two hotels that might otherwise be shut down. Dispersing the homeless to Kearny Mesa and Mission Valley is a good idea because there are problems when there are high concentrations of poverty.

Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates

NO: San Diego must first have a plan that can work before we start buying property without a current appraisal. I much prefer spending less money for more services. A camp like the proposed Sunbreak Ranch would include dedicated teams of mental health professionals, drug rehabilitation specialists and vocational trainers on a site outside of town. Buying hotels at peak of the market prices is not an idea that would receive my vote.

Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth

YES: The amount of homelessness in our wealthy country (and city) reflects our growing inequality and underinvestment in social services. While I am ill-equipped to comment on the proposal (vs. alternative sites or creating a new facility), this solution offers some immediate aid. Ultimately, we should prioritize investments addressing the root of the inequalities: lack of affordable housing and healthcare, mental health, PTSD, addiction, criminal reintegration, etc.

James Hamilton, UC San Diego

NO: The problem is not just a lack of shelter, but also stems from addiction, mental illness, and lack of opportunity and responsibility. I think we need to tackle these problems with an integrated strategy. Having said that, the homeless are a huge social problem and COVID has made it imperative to find solutions. If we take this step, let’s put all our energy behind trying to make it work.

Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health

YES: As both a social and health care issue, homelessness is even more concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have avoided a dangerous coronavirus outbreak among the homeless population by providing safe housing in the Convention Center. But that’s not a long-term solution. The hotels could provide a safe alternative, but social services, mental and physical health, and security issues must be addressed there as well. The city also must be sensitive to other hotels and businesses nearby.

Have an idea for an EconoMeter question? Email me at [email protected].

Follow me on Twitter: @PhillipMolnar

Source Article