A South Shore homeless service organization is taking a step some hope will start a trend in efforts to end chronic homelessness.
Father Bill's & Mainspring is purchasing a Brockton hotel it's currently renting as extra shelter space to keep its guests as spread out as possible during the pandemic. It's going to convert the former Rodeway Inn into permanent supportive housing for people who've been homeless.
About 70 adults experiencing homelessness are currently staying at the hotel. But they could soon call it their permanent home — with units to rent as their own and support services to help them address their medical, mental health, financial and employment needs.
John Yazwinski, president and CEO of Father Bill's & Mainspring, said the organization signed a purchase and sale agreement on the property and is applying to the state for funding to turn the building's rooms into 69 studio apartments.
"Projects like this, when you do it with the state in a normal year, could take two to three years," Yazwinski said. "We're going to try to do this in less than a year. So our game plan right now is ... we hope to acquire the property by late winter, start renovations and convert it to permanent housing hopefully by late spring."
The project is expected to cost about $9 million — in the ballpark of $140,000 per apartment, according to Yazwinski. That's about half of what it costs to develop typical affordable housing units in the Boston area.
The state dollars would come through a special round of housing funding announced in response to the pandemic. Loans and private fundraising would cover most of the rest of the project's costs.
Lyndia Downie, president and executive director of the Boston shelter and housing organization Pine Street Inn, applauds the move.
"It is a faster, cheaper way to find housing for single people who really have almost no options in what is still a pretty expensive market," Downie said.
Pine Street has some housing development projects underway. It isn't currently looking to purchase any hotels or motels, though it is renting a hotel as extra shelter space because of distancing restrictions. But Downie said it's a potential model for the future.
Hotel conversion could be an upside of the economic downturn, according to Joyce Tavon, senior director of policy and programs for the advocacy organization Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance. Tavon said she'd like to see other providers pursue it.
"We had hoped that all of us, collectively as a state, were going to take advantage of this opportunity, where there are kind of vacant hotels that may be put on the market — to be able to use them as shelter and then convert them into permanent supportive housing," Tavon said. "There's not as much of that happening as we would have liked to see ... But we're also aware that at this moment we've got to deal with the emergency that's in front of us."
The emergency of a vulnerable population living in busy shelters, at heightened risk from COVID-19.