City to Open Big Whites to Unhoused

Karin K. Jensen This home, one of the Big Whites that one served as living quarters for senior Naval officers, is one of three that will now shelter the unhoused this winter.

City to Open Big Whites to Unhoused

At its Nov. 16 meeting, the City Council authorized City Manager Eric Levitt to execute agreements up to $2,881,047 with Bay Area Community Services (BACS) to provide emergency homeless housing services for up to two years with Alameda County providing remodeling and repair services. These agreements will result in 32 beds of emergency housing and support services for the City’s unhoused during this cold weather season. Council chose to expedite these agreements to make housing available sooner.

This housing will be at 2845 Pearl Harbor Road, 2815 Newport Road, and 2700 Lemoore Road, Unit A, properties the City owns. Between $30,000 and $45,000 for remodeling will come from the County’s Homeless Emergency Aid Program, the balance coming from the City’s allotment of American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Emergency housing services will open to adults over 18 and residing in the City, with low barriers to entry. The City will coordinate referrals with other service providers and the Alameda County Coordinated Entry System.

BACS is a local non-profit with experience successfully providing shelter for the unhoused in single-family, scattered-site dwellings throughout the Bay Area, particularly in Oakland. Services will include one meal a day, food for meal preparation, case management and referral, housing navigation, and staff oversight.

City staff will be present overnight at each home to ensure safety. In addition, BACS will dedicate flexible funds to prepare and place residents in permanent housing.

Public and Council Comment:

Several speakers objected to authorizing these agreements before public comment and requested delaying the vote.

One Alameda resident said, “I work in affordable housing, and although the majority are well behaved and deserving, even in the permanent housing stage, there are outsized issues with drugs, violence, death, psychiatric breakdowns, and other unneighborly behaviors…I ask that the decision be delayed until proper stakeholder input is received.”

Councilmember Trish Herrera Spencer concurred, saying that she felt the community raised legitimate concerns and should be involved in the conversation before proceeding.

Councilmember Tony Daysog pointed out that the contract language addresses evicting emergency housing residents for noncompliance with dwelling rules such as possession of a weapon, theft, and other reasons and offered suggestions for strengthening the language.

He remarked that he trusted Levitt and his staff to listen to the concerns that he and members of the public raised and to strengthen the contract language accordingly.

Vice Mayor Malia Vella remarked that since her first term in office, people have come to Council meetings asking why the City doesn’t use its properties for affordable or emergency housing. Now that the City has funding and available units, it is trying to do that.

Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said she agreed that an advance community meeting would have been best, but this project has “been a long time coming” and with a housing crisis, the lack of a meeting was not a reason to hold it up.

She said that working with BACS, an “experienced service provider, gives me confidence.” She nonetheless wants the neighbors to have something like an advisory committee and the opportunity to be heard and have concerns addressed.

Final Vote:

In the final vote, the motion to authorize agreements with BACS and the County passed 4-1, with Ashcraft, Vella, Daysog and Knox-White voting in favor. Herrera Spencer voted against it.

Community Meeting:

Community Development Director Lisa Maxwell scheduled a community meeting to share ideas, address concerns, and answer questions about the emergency housing for 6 p.m., next Monday, Nov. 29, at the Albert H. DeWitt O Club, 641 W. Red Line Ave. The public is invited to attend.

Karin K. Jensen is a freelance writer who lives in Alameda.