Hotel’s Vouchers for Homeless Would Continue Under Proposal

The City Council seems poised to enact an urgency ordinance on Tuesday to essentially enter into a contract with a local hotel developer that would involve committing the operation to temporary homeless housing vouchers.

Under the general terms of the proposed ordinance, which was discussed this past Tuesday, the Vagabond Inn on West Colorado Street would continue to accept vouchers for the homeless tenants through the remainder of the year and would consider six-month renewals after that until the site is demolished. In exchange, developer Vista Investments LLC, which owns the inn, will be granted a contractual development agreement with the city that allows Vista additional time to complete the approved project with its variances. The Glendale Youth Alliance would administer the voucher program, with assistance from the city, and hotel stays would be capped at 28 days per client.

As an urgency ordinance, it will require four votes to pass, rather than the typical three. Based on comments Tuesday night, the ordinance seems likely to garner that support.

“I think that as stewards of the community, we have an obligation to address the number of homeless — in this case young — people that we have in the community, and I thank the development team for being amenable to this,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said.

The Vagabond Inn, constructed in 1972, is a 52-unit facility. Vista plans to replace it with a six-story, 130-room hotel, and received allowances to have 38% of its parking be in-tandem (the maximum is normally 25%) and  those six stories to have a floor-area ratio of three through the city’s Height and Density Incentives Program.

The project and its variances were approved on May 22, 2018, and Vista requested an extension in November 2019 with a promise to submit for plan-check in summer 2020. The city granted this extension, making the expiration date May 22 this year. The onset of the coronavirus pandemic several months later, however, threw a wrench into the plans because of plummeting hotel use and a spike in construction material prices.

In addition to the voucher framework, the proposed development agreement would extend the project approval for three years and would lock in any developer fees assessed by the city once Vista submits for plan-check.

“We’ve got many programs that we’ve already extended through the end of September and are continuing to extend. We’re happy with the programs. We’re still doing them in several of our other hotels as Project Roomkey wraps up,” said Amanda Mauceri, a representative for the project.

Kassakhian and Councilman Dan Brotman both advocated early on for the voucher program to continue in some fashion into next year. The Glendale Youth Alliance emerged as the operator of the program because Ascencia (the city’s primary continuum-of-care organization) has experienced “staffing attrition” and other organizations like Door of Hope and YWCA Glendale were seeking family-type units with kitchenettes, according to Onnig Bulanikian, director of community services and parks.

“We’ll work with GYA to place a number of homeless clients,” he added, explaining that clients will have to follow the city’s case management program, sign up for mental health services and seek employment, “so that eventually, when the 28 days is up, they can be self-supporting and can move on to some sort of permanent housing.”

Community Development Director Philip Lanzafame pointed out that at a maximum of five vouchers at a time, this represented nearly 10% of the hotel’s capacity.

“We’re mostly looking for the opportunity to reevaluate — potentially add more rooms if the program is going well or evaluate the cost of the voucher, depending on the room rates,” Mauceri said, explaining the developer’s position on voucher terms. “We’re basing everything off of what we know today and the environment could be very different [in the future].

“It’s not that we’re trying to bail out of the program,” she later added. “It’s more that we’re giving ourselves the opportunity to evaluate.”

Councilman Ara Najarian, who historically resists imposing upon businesses, was skeptical of the deal because he felt the city was extracting a favor from Vista.

“I think we’ve got this person over a barrel,” Najarian said, provoking a “No” interjection from Mayor Paula Devine.

Najarian continued, with the conversation breaking down as Kassakhian eventually interrupted.

“I feel a little uncomfortable, especially since the history of this developer has been very sensitive to the homeless situation,” Najarian said. “He’s taken in homeless individuals with vouchers for the past year. We’re acting as though he’s some sort of bad actor —”

“No, no, no, no, no, no, not at all,” Kassakhian interjected. “I categorically reject that categorization.”

Devine had to use the gavel to silence the arguing, allowing Najarian to ask whether there was any sort of nexus that made this arrangement appropriate, even if he didn’t agree with the substance.

“My view is that in light of that request to essentially enter into a contract, we have greater discretion to agree to the terms of that contract, to say what the consideration of that contract should be,” City Attorney Michael Garcia explained. “They want an extension for three years for those entitlements. They want us to agree to that by contract, and by contract, we can ask for additional considerations. That’s what this is.”

A majority of the council, as well as Mauceri, seemed to agree with where the discussion arrived.