Long Beach officials are hopeful that state money can fund the construction of up to 35 tiny homes and another motel conversion to quickly ramp up the amount of non-congregate shelter space available in the city, something that has proven more successful in convincing people to accept shelter.

The City Council Tuesday night approved applications for up to $45 million in state funding that can be used for a multitude of purposes like converting non-residential buildings into residential space for those experiencing homelessness and acquiring hotels and motels, or building new homes.

Potential funding from the state is part of the Project Homekey initiative that the city and county have used to purchase multiple motels in the region to provide transitional housing for homeless people. If the city receives the funding it’s seeking, it could add between 100 and 120 rooms, according to Paul Duncan, the city’s homeless services bureau manager.

The tiny homes are proposed to be added at the Long Beach Multi-Service Center in West Long Beach, which would provide interim housing for adults experiencing chronic homelessness, meaning they’ve been homeless for more than a year and have some disabling condition, Duncan said in an interview.

The tiny homes and motel conversions offer small, individual living areas, which differs from the group shelters that can have dozens of people sleeping in the same room. The city has about 400 non-congregate units available between city-owned and leased Homekey sites, county-operated Homekey sites, and units that are able to be paid for through emergency motel vouchers.

“It has changed our ability in the way we’re able to engage with people who may not have been interested with what we were offering in the past,” Duncan said of the non-congregate shelter space the city already has.

The privacy and security that tiny homes provide can be life-changing, Duncan said, adding that the city is focusing on tiny home models that have their own restrooms attached because that has been a primary concern expressed by people they contact about accepting services.

“It’s tough being out there,” Duncan said of living on the streets. “To have a door that locks and a place where you can get some good sleep is a big deal.”

Last year, the largest tiny home village in the country opened in Highland Park where there are 117 housing units spread over a 6.8-acre site. The site, which provides 224 non-congregate beds, was built in 90 days with a reported cost of $55,000 per unit.

Long Beach has not yet determined the cost per unit to build tiny homes at the Multi-Service Center, but given its relatively flat land and existing utilities the costs per unit could be similar to the Highland Park Center, Duncan said.

A city memo estimated that the construction and operation of the tiny homes could require a grant of  $8.7 million while the acquisition and operation of a motel could cost around $27.5 million. The city could need up to an additional $9.5 million next year to operate the existing motel conversion it already has, according to the memo.

How long homeless individuals will live in the “interim” housing depends on the person, Duncan said, noting that some people have stayed at some of the city’s non-congregate sites for over a year.

If they’re engaging with staff and trying to transition into a permanent situation, Duncan said there is no real deadline on when they need to leave because the real goal is to help keep them from falling back into chronic homelessness.

An earlier request from Councilmember Al Austin to look at acquiring space in other parts of the city for tiny-home villages has not progressed. Deputy City Manager Linda Tatum said Tuesday night that the city is looking but has not identified another site outside of the Multi-Service Center.

It’s also not clear which motel the city could try to buy for conversion if it wins the grant money. The City Council has been meeting in closed sessions for months to discuss the possible acquisition of one of six motels. The list includes a few in Downton like the Vagabond Inn and the Travelodge that is located next to the popular restaurant, The Breakfast Bar.

It also includes a Motel 6 near the Pacific Coast Campus of Long Beach City College and the Colonial Inn located next to Long Beach Poly High School. The city last met in a closed session to discuss the sites on April 12 and would have to apply to purchase one by May 2 to be eligible for this round of funding to help pay for it.

The city has operated a 102-unit Homekey site at the former Best Western in the Washington Neighborhood where people began living in March 2021. Los Angeles County has run a 43-room interim housing operation out of a former Motel 6 near Cal State Long Beach since February 2021.

There’s no firm expectation for when the grant award could be announced, Duncan said, but if Long Beach gets the state money, it could come as soon as next month, which would set off a relatively short window to build the tiny homes.

Tatum said Tuesday that grant winners would be held to a tight timeline to actually spend the money and the city had chosen the modular housing approach because the city could purchase pre-approved designs that could be put up without local approval, which is typical of other construction projects.

The homes could be built in as little as 60 to 90 days, Tatum said.

Editors note: This story has been updated with more information about how many non-congregate units are currently available in Long Beach. 

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.