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The San Diego Housing Commission voted unanimously Friday to end talks to buy 10 motels that would have permanently housed homeless people now sheltered at the convention center in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

City officials will continue exploring options to lease or purchase other motels for homeless people, a Housing Commission spokesman told inewsource after the vote. Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed the idea of acquiring motels last month.

Why this matters

Homeless people are among the most vulnerable populations to illness and infectious disease. Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said providing them with a safe place during and after the COVID-19 crisis is a priority.

The commission’s action comes more than three weeks after inewsource found that six of the 10 motels being considered had a history of code enforcement complaints about bedbugs, cockroaches and mold. Four of the motels also had logged more than 100 calls to San Diego police since January 2018, including the E-Z 8 Motel on Pacific Highway with over 500.

Because the commission was considering real estate purchases, the board was allowed to meet behind closed doors on the negotiations. Housing Commission spokesman Scott Marshall said part of the board’s vote came down to due diligence.

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Vantaggio Suites, 819 University Ave., Hillcrest
Ramada Inn, 828-830 6th Ave., Downtown
Days Inn, 5343 Adobe Falls Road, Grantville
Quality Inn, 3878 Dalbergia Court, Southcrest
E-Z 8 Motel, 4747 Pacific Highway, Old Town
Wyndham Garden, 3737 Midway Drive, Midway District
Days Inn & Suites, 3350 Rosecrans St., Midway District
No name provided, 3330 Gaines St., Mission Valley
Rodeway Inn, 5399 Adobe Falls Road, Grantville
The Consulate Hotel, 2901 Nimitz Blvd., Point Loma

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The commission, he said in an email, “makes its decisions based on whether or not the potential acquisition of a property benefits the individuals the property will serve and is a prudent investment of taxpayer dollars.”

It has decided to end negotiations with these 10 properties, Marshall said, but “continues to explore opportunities to lease and/or purchase hotels in the City of San Diego to provide housing for San Diegans experiencing homelessness.”

Faulconer said later on Friday he expects the commission to be selective, and those 10 motels just didn’t make the cut.

“The hotel properties have to make sense both physically (and) they have to make sense financially, and that’s the type of diligence that we need to do to make sure that as we bring these on that it makes sense,” Faulconer said. “Not just for the short term, but for the long term.”

While Faulconer has not said publicly how much he wants the city to spend buying and renovating motels for what the city calls “Operation Shelter to Home,” the Housing Commission has proposed in next year’s budget spending $19 million to acquire hotels for homeless San Diegans.

The mayor and other elected officials have pledged to secure permanent housing for every homeless person who has been moved into the convention center, which was converted in April to a homeless shelter.

The initial goal was to keep the coronavirus from spreading to those living in the city’s tent shelters and on the streets. Officials now see an opportunity to find permanent housing for some of San Diego’s estimated 4,887 homeless people.

inewsource intern Natallie Rocha contributed to this report.

Update: May 18, 2020
This story has been updated to include Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s comments.

Cody Dulaney is an investigative reporter at inewsource focusing on social impact and government accountability. Few things excite him more than building spreadsheets and knocking on the door of people who refuse to return his calls. When he’s not ruffling the feathers of some public official,...