Costa Mesa moves forward with housing for homeless


At a short meeting Tuesday night, the Costa Mesa City Council saw what acting mayor Wendy Leece called “a defining moment” in the city’s history, by taking another step forward in its development of permanent supportive housing for the city’s homeless population.

“We are following the recommendations of the [city’s] Homeless Task Force, which labored many hours to come up with a plan,” she said. “If we’re really going to help Costa Mesa homeless, then supportive housing really has to be a piece of the puzzle.”

The council — absent Mayor Jim Righeimer and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, both of whom were at a retail conference in Las Vegas —unanimously voted to commit up to $500,000 for the project.

The money for the project would come from HOME funds that the city received in years past through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, though money from Costa Mesa’s general fund could also be used.

But the federal funds came with an expiration date, special legal counsel Celeste Brady said. The funds must be committed by June 30, she said, or the city runs the risk of losing them.

Following Tuesday’s vote, the city will send an application to the federal agency for review to spend the funds. Brady said she was optimistic that the plan, especially with developers already selected, will be approved.

In an April meeting, the council chose Orange County-based nonprofit Mercy House Living Centers and San Diego-based Wakeland Housing to collaborate on a plan, which representatives of the two nonprofits said Tuesday will begin to take a more refined shape as the project progresses.

For example, whether the development would be built new on an underutilized lot, or if the city could feasibly take over one of the “problem motels” drawing what city officials say is a disproportionate amount of crime for conversion into supportive housing remains to be seen.

Wakeland Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Louie told the council that her organization has a range of supportive housing development experience, much of which includes “acquisition rehabs,” meaning that existing structures were renovated and converted.

One potential hiccup came with questions about eligibility criteria for getting a spot in the development.

“Our overriding principle is that it would be for a Costa Mesa resident that’s been here for…18 months. That would still prevail wouldn’t it?” Leece asked.

Brady said that could present something of a legal issue, because “fair housing laws would not include exclusivity.” However, she said, the city could work with the developers to come up with a kind of “waterfall of preference,” which would prioritize Costa Mesa residents over others.

In other business, Councilwoman Sandy Genis reminded interested residents that applications for the city’s charter committee are due May 28.