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Stanton celebrates converting a trio of seedy motels into affordable housing

Clara Vista opened on the site of the former Tahiti Motel in Stanton.
Clara Vista opened on the site of the former Tahiti Motel in Stanton and now offers 60 units of permanent supportive housing.
(Eric Licas )
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When Virginia Guevara first became homeless in 2016, she never thought of scrounging up enough money to stay overnight at motels.

Guevara, 66, lived out of her car instead, before residing at a Buena Park homeless shelter for three years.

But everything changed on Jan. 4 when she moved into a studio apartment at Clara Vista in Stanton, the site of the former Tahiti Motel off Beach Boulevard.

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“My expectations were blown away when I first got my place,” Guevara said. “It has a kitchen, it has a bathroom and a full shower. This is a godsend for me.”

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Clara Vista apartments is one of three former Stanton motels along or near Beach Boulevard that have been recently converted through Project Homekey, a multibillion-dollar statewide effort to build affordable housing for people who are either already homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless.

Aurora Vista, formerly the Riveria Motel, is conjoined with Clara Vista through a parcel purchased in between the two properties.

That lot is now home to an amenities area with raised garden beds, a computer lab and game room.

It’s also where elected officials and key stakeholders cut through a blue ribbon on Wednesday in celebrating the grand opening of the three converted motels.

“No one ever wanted to do this in California,” said Stanton Mayor David Shawver. “Everybody thought, ‘Oh, this is going to be bad for my community, it’s going to be bad for my neighborhood.’ But today, we proved them wrong.”

Virginia Guevara speaks about her new life and studio apartment in Stanton thanks to Project Homekey.
(Eric Licas)

Through Project Homekey, which is administered by the California Department of Housing and Development, the Stanton Inn and Suites was also converted to become Iluma apartments, which offers a mix of studio and one-bedroom apartments to qualifying tenants.

Together, the trio of converted motels in Stanton will provide 153 units of permanent supportive housing.

During the pandemic in 2020, Stanton Inn and Suites was repurposed as temporary housing through Project Roomkey, a statewide effort to get homeless people off the streets and into motel rooms during the public health emergency.

The permanent conversions that followed as part of Project Homekey come as a result of a joint effort between Stanton, Orange County and the nonprofit Jamboree Housing Corp.

Project Homekey provided $23.5 million to acquire and convert the motel properties. The county pitched in $6.5 million. Stanton, a small city, spent $5.6 million on the projects, which accounted for 20% of its annual budget.

An additional $30 million was secured from federal low-income housing tax credits.

Local, county and congressional representatives were on hand for the ribbon cutting at the grand opening in Stanton.
Local, county and congressional representatives were on hand for the ribbon cutting at the grand opening in Stanton.
(Eric Licas)

Stanton is now home to three of six Project Homekey sites in the county, which is a point of public policy pride for council members.

“I am just very proud of seeing Stanton being a symbol of helping our homeless population,” said Stanton City Councilman Donald Torres. “These developments within our city are that symbol of compassion.”

The conversions are seen by city leaders as an inclusive approach to redeeming Beach Boulevard, once hailed as O.C.’s “road to summer,” only to be saddled with motels that became magnets for crime in recent decades, as well as housing as a last resort for homeless people.

According to a recent count, more than 7,300 people are homeless in O.C., a 28% increase from two years ago. More than half of those are living on the streets, and nearly half of unhoused adults experienced homelessness for the first time in the past 12 months.

Orange County released the findings of its latest Point in Time count, which shows that homelessness has increased 28% since 2022.

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The three Project Homekey communities offer supportive services to their tenants, including VA programs, as 20 units are specifically designated for homeless veterans. Other services come in partnership with Homes First with 10 units dedicated to people with significant mental disabilities.

Each community comes with an on-site manager’s unit.

Rent ranges from roughly $725 to $825 per month. Some subsidized tenants may pay as little as $50 per month toward their rent, as they pay 30% of their total income.

A studio apartment at Clara Vista in Stanton, which was converted from a motel under Project Homekey.
(Eric Licas)

Clara Vista, which was completed in December, is already almost at capacity with only a handful of roughly 400-square-foot units left available.

For Guevara, who fell on hard times after taking care of her father who suffered from dementia, Clara Vista represents a new lease on life.

She is looking forward to becoming a certified caretaker and wants to travel outside of the state to see family with stable housing now secured.

It’s a message Guevara brought before stakeholders at the grand-opening celebration.

“We are more than just statistics,” she said. “We are people with dreams and hopes.”

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