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Housing Director Emilio Ramirez. (File photo)
Thursday, April 1, 2021

By Chris Frost


Oxnard-- The Oxnard City Council conducted a public hearing and adopted a resolution authorizing Mayor John Zaragoza to execute a Development and Disposition Agreement between Housing Trust Fund Ventura County, Community Development Partners Developers, LLC, and the City of Oxnard on May 30.


The action authorizes City Manager Alex Nguyen to execute and consult with City Attorney Stephen Fischer, enter into a Donation Agreement with Housing Trust Fund Ventura County and the City of Oxnard and enter into a loan agreement with CDP Developers, LLC to construct the Homeless Solutions Center at 241 West Second Street.


Housing Director Emilio Ramirez said homelessness in California has been growing over the past decade. Though many efforts continue, there is still a need for resources, and the City of Oxnard is not an exception.


"In 2020, the official unsheltered point-in-time count of homelessness found that 379 persons were living in unsheltered conditions in Oxnard," he said. "This represents a decrease from the prior year, which we attribute directly to the opening of the current and temporary navigation center on K Street. There was not a 2021 point-in-time count due to Covid-19."


Oxnard has addressed homelessness previously with a model the city is working to change. It involved the operation of an incomplete homeless shelter that only ran during the cold weather months.


"It was only a nighttime sleep effort without a daytime opportunity and active support services," he said. "Operating such an operation was expensive considering its incomplete scale. Oxnard undertook an effort which the city manager has often referred to as "Whack a Mole," meaning that homelessness was not housed; instead, they just chased people around throughout town."


The new model is a 24-hour day operation with active case management and navigation seeking permanent housing solutions.


"In 2018, Oxnard adopted a five-year homeless strategy, and that plan specifically called out for the production and operation of a permanent year-round homeless shelter," Ramirez said. "We continue to offer companion services such as street outreach and case management."


Oxnard's primary objective is to respond to homelessness with a housing first solution. Housing first is a low barrier operation to end homelessness.


"It centers on quickly moving people from homelessness into housing and then providing additional support and services as needed," he said. "Housing first does not mean housing only but recognizes that people are better able to move on with their lives in a housed environment. Many studies have demonstrated how a housing-first approach can rapidly end homelessness, increase housing stability, and is cost-effective by reducing the cost of other publicly funded systems."


The proposed homeless solutions center launches the effort, he said, and it is the first housing first model in the City of Oxnard.


"The city intends to follow up this first effort with a 2021 calendar year-long community engagement effort to fully design and implement a housing first production plan," he said. "The ground floor will house the 110-bed navigation center and shelter with approximately 13,000 square feet of space."


The former system, called "Housing Readiness," had people out in the cold while the city tried to establish a need and then try to place them in a home.


"The Housing First flips that and recognizes that shelter is a key component to achieving housing stability on the road to pursuing life stability," he said. "The Oxnard community has been looking to identify a location for a permanent homeless navigation center for at least a decade. Many efforts have started and stopped."


The Oxnard Housing Department considered 21 different sites in the most current effort, and the sites were not viable.


"We also considered a location on Saviers Road, which was abandoned in late 2019," he said. "The staff was asked to identify an alternate location that could offer a more complete solution."


The Oxnard Housing Department envisioned an opportunity to build a nicely designed and operated mixed-use development on a city-owned location on the corner of Second and B streets downtown.


"The proposed homeless solutions center is a 110-bed low barrier homeless shelter on the ground floor with complete supportive services and navigation functions," he said. "Plus, it has 56 units of permanent supportive housing. The Oxnard Housing staff undertook a series of community engagement efforts throughout the 2020 calendar year, which was admittedly challenged during the pandemic. We met with business and neighborhood groups. There were community meetings at the downtown library and All Saints Church." 


There were also hearings in front of the Commission on Homelessness, the Housing and Economic Development Committee, the Planning Commission, and the City Council.


"The Oxnard Housing staff presents a structure for your consideration that can effectively leverage local funding and partnerships to bring forth as much outside investment as possible," he said. "We propose to donate the real property, valued at $840,000, to the Ventura County Housing Trust Fund, allowing them to leverage this value for future affordable housing funds. The housing trust fund will then contract with Community Development Partners and eventual site control. The city will lend the development $1.5 million of mission-based and affordable housing restricted funds for the production of the permanent supportive housing development."


The city and Ventura County will split the cost of the shelter build-out and operation.


"The city will contribute an additional $1.5 million for the shelter build-out from the already allocated and restricted Measure O fund," Ramirez said. "The total development of the cost of the homeless solutions center is estimated to be at $34.6 million, where only $1.5 million, plus unused city-owned land will be contributed to the development by the city for the permanent supportive housing development. This will offer an opportunity to leverage approximately of $32.3 million from outside public and private sources, including the contribution from the developer."


The disposition and development agreement is the overriding development agreement and conveys the property to the Housing Trust Fund Ventura County.


"It requires the subsequent grounding of the same site to Community Development Partners for a 99-year term," he said. "We propose a deed restriction to ensure the operation of the homeless solutions center. The city will retain the ability to recapture the real property should the homeless solutions center not happen."


The Oxnard Housing staff also proposes a memorandum of understanding with Ventura County to share the build-out cost and the subsequent cost of the shelter.


"The first year of operation contribution from entities estimate needs to be about $1.45 million," he said. "Each entity will contribute just over $2 million to the build-out of the operation, considering an estimated amount of about $4 million of the tenant improvements. The city's contribution will be an out-of-pocket contribution of just under $500,000, considering that it already contributed the property for the project and the development of the building. That $1.5 million will come from the already set aside and restricted Measure O funds."


City Manager Alex Nguyen said a lot of work went into the item. He thanked many people in the city but called out Emilio Ramirez for all his work.


"For his leadership, sheer brainpower, and his ability to put together a puzzle of this complexity and how comprehensive it is, as well as his staff member, Elsa Brown, who has an incredible work ethic and brainpower for pulling this together," Nguyen said. "Many of you who are senior staff members, as well as policymakers, have a much longer history than me in terms of homelessness in Oxnard, in terms of many years. It was only in 2019 that this city, for the first time, opened a year-round shelter. Prior to that, the city only had the temporary winter warming shelter, and that wasn't every year."


During public comments, Jackson Piper asked the council to approve the staff recommendation and move forward with the shelter.


"Bring 56 permanent supportive housing units, 110 shelter beds, and supportive services into the heart of Oxnard in order to serve the homeless population and lift them out of the situation they're in," he said. "I've been dealing with homelessness as an issue in my day job as a county planner in Los Angeles County for over five years. I've seen things that will make people cry, I think."


Tim Helton congratulated Emilio Ramirez and Elsa Brown for bringing the item to the council and helping the homeless.


Jessica Petrillo from the city said Ramirez's presentation provided information on the project, including the overall cost.


"It fits within the city's five-year homeless plan, and it fits within the housing first model," Petrillo said. "The homeless solutions center provides someone with a place that is warm and safe to sleep each night, and it has permanent supportive housing."


Mayor Pro Tem Bryan MacDonald said he didn't expect to support the solutions center and said the city could have done a better job keeping the council involved.


"It is what it is," he said. "I've heard a lot of comments tonight about the benefits, but I'm still not fully convinced that this is the best location. It is a location and something that needs to get done. It's not just the City of Oxnard. We need to continue our partnership with Ventura County. When we build a facility for services, the county is the one that gets funded for mental health services. We need to make sure that we maintain a partnership with them."


Council Member Gabriel Tehran asked about the cost and what the city's actual cost will be.


Ramirez said the city would contribute $1.5 million in former redevelopment housing set aside funds.


"Those dollars are mission-based and restricted to the development of affordable housing," he said. "They cannot be used for anything else. They must be used for that purpose."


Council Member Vianey Lopez said many of the public comments have been about the facility itself.


"This is not only a place for someone to sleep in, but the wraparound services that will be provided, I think, are the key and will provide assistance to transition for anyone homeless and willing and interested in this assistance," she said.


The project will start construction in the spring of 2022, with occupancy anticipated in fall 2023.