Is Anaheim on a “Fast Track” to Provide 69 Supportive Housing Units for the Homeless?

New zoning ordinance facilitates use of motels and other commercial property conversions into affordable housing.

By: Tim Houchen
July 18, 2019 —

Members of the Anaheim Housing & Community Development Commission on Wednesday July 17th approved a plan that would provide 69 permanent supportive housing units dedicated for persons experiencing homelessness on a “fast track.”

Labeled thus far as the Econo Lodge Apartments, Anaheim’s latest affordable housing project will convert the aging Econo Lodge Motel located at 2691 W. La Palma Ave. in Anaheim into studio apartment units dedicated entirely to housing homeless persons.

This type of conversion of commercial properties into affordable housing would not have been possible without changes to the existing zoning regulations put forth in Title 18 of the Anaheim Municipal Code.

On May 14, 2019, the City Council introduced an ordinance to facilitate the conversion of existing motels and other commercial and office structures within the “C-G” General Commercial Zone to Multiple-Family, Transitional and Supportive Housing for low-income persons, subject to approval of a conditional use permit. The proposed amendment provides the necessary development and performance standards to regulate these uses, and is in response to City Council policies to address homelessness and find creative housing solutions for all income levels.

One last hurdle remains before the Econo Lodge conversion can move forward. The Anaheim City Council must give final approval on the project which will be on the agenda for the July 30, 2019 City Council Meeting.

The prospects for approval look extremely good, especially since the proposed developer of the Econo Lodge conversion is a familiar partner in other recent successful, high-quality affordable housing projects.

The Econo Lodge would be the fifth project that Jamboree Housing of Irvine has teamed-up collaboratively with the City of Anaheim over a thirteen year relationship. The Jamboree – Anaheim combination is proven for creating high-quality housing by design and as partners they share a comprehensive approach as to addressing the needs of the specific populations that they serve in each project whether it be homeless families, seniors or persons with special needs.

The Econo Lodge project will specifically serve chronically homeless individuals with units designated additionally for chronically homeless veterans and chronically homeless persons with mental health issues. Adding these sub-populations of persons experiencing homelessness and meeting their specific needs of housing and services, brings Anaheim closer to meeting the needs of all homeless persons within its borders and brings the city closer to eliminating visible homelessness in the future.

Each of the 69 studio apartments, although small (about 298 sq. ft.), will be accommodated with a bed, full restroom and kitchenette. Additional storage space will be made available as well as shared laundry facilities and parking. Other features include an open courtyard that will contain a community garden and shaded areas with outdoor seating in a relaxed atmosphere.

New structures will be added to provide a recreation room, a community center for meetings, support groups, etc. and small offices for service providers to conduct case management services with tenants.

If everything goes well, the project could be complete and ready to occupy by January 2021, according to Vicky Ramirez, a Senior Director at Jamboree Housing.

Ironically, the Econo Lodge conversion was first mentioned in a Voice of OC article dated April 18, 2018. The Econo Lodge project was suggested as being 60 units that were “ready to break ground” at that time as part of an initial lot of 315 units out of the 2,700 units total proposed by business leaders and the Association of California Cities Orange County (ACC-OC), but as we have seen the Anaheim City Ordinance that would allow a motel conversion for the purpose of providing housing for the homeless did not exist until about two weeks ago.

Unfortunately, this news may suggest just how far behind Orange County is behind in its commitments to create solutions to the ever-growing numbers of visibly homeless persons on our streets today.

It would be far better to simply take into consideration the opportunities that are being created through the advancement of ideas like the conversion of motels and other commercial properties into housing for persons experiencing homelessness.

Just knowing that potentially, these conversions could cut the time of building these projects from the ground up in half should motivate us all to provide all of the support we can to promote the success of the Anaheim Econo Lodge project. Perhaps then, as a model, the idea can be replicated throughout our county.

Maybe then we can find comfort in the success of just one thing that would relieve the long suffering of those that experience life without a roof over their head and find additional relief for our communities who continue to be severely impacted by the ongoing crisis of visible homelessness.

Tim Houchen is the Executive Director of Hope 4 Restoration and also serves as a Commissioner on the Anaheim Housing & Community Development Board

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