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Encinitas Should Grab a Good Thing : Plan to utilize motel for very-low-income housing is a splendid opportunity

Encinitas has a housing opportunity it cannot afford to pass up.

Seldom does a city get the chance for 106 units of very-low-income housing this easily or cheaply: The nonprofit North County Chaplaincy wants to convert the financially ailing Image Inns motel into a residential motel for farm workers, the homeless and other low-paid workers. The bank that foreclosed on the motel is willing to sell it for less than the outstanding loans. State and county grants have been pledged to cover part of the purchase, and rents are expected to cover most of the rest of the costs.

Such a project should overcome the usual community resistance. The site is already used as a regular motel. So, if anything, the turnover among tenants would probably be less if it were converted to a residential motel.

The design is known. As is the location, at Interstate 5 and Leucadia Boulevard, in a neighborhood with a mixture of homes and commercial nurseries. There’s parking, and there will be on-site management and food service.

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And the project mostly will pay for itself. All that Encinitas is being asked for is its blessing and $103,500 in federal community development funds.

How could Encinitas miss? Especially since the need is so great in this upscale North County city, which has many commercial nurseries and tourism-related businesses that draw immigrant laborers but little housing that they can afford.

North County Chaplaincy estimates that Encinitas has 4,000 to 5,000 homeless or inadequately housed residents. Many of these people live in deplorable conditions in makeshift hillside and canyon camps.

But homeless migrant workers and low-income housing are sensitive subjects in Encinitas. The city has been accused in two lawsuits of stymieing plans for low-income housing, and its affordable housing plans are not in compliance with California law. Some vocal residents and community leaders have earned Encinitas the reputation as a city hostile to Latino migrant laborers.

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The Encinitas City Council can help change that reputation and start solving its affordable housing problems by approving the grant for the creative Image Inns project and helping the North County Chaplaincy address any legitimate criticisms of the project.

It can turn a business failure into a community success.


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