City of Oakland

When the state of California announced its Project Homekey program—which aids communities in acquiring hotels, motels, and other buildings to rapidly house people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic—the city of Oakland was determined to be part of it.

“Because of the opportunity of the pandemic and the money flowing, we mobilized all of our departments to strike when we saw an opportunity. A dorm was pitched up from a City Council member. It was a good fit and in good condition,” says Christina Mun, deputy director of housing for Oakland’s Department of Housing & Community Services.

Satellite Affordable Housing Associates

The city had to act fast to comply with Homekey’s Dec. 31, 2020, deadline, which also required the property to be at least partially occupied within a month of purchase. It acquired the vacant Clifton Hall dormitory, originally built in 2002 by the California College of the Arts for 126 students in the city’s desirable Rockridge neighborhood, in November 2020. Within a month, a temporary shelter for homeless families was operational by Christmas. By spring 2021, the renovation on the upper floors was completed, providing 41 permanent supportive housing units for homeless seniors 55 and older.

Nonprofit developer Satellite Affordable Housing Associates was tapped by the city to oversee the lease-up and operations of Clifton Hall’s seniors housing. Priority was given to applicants who were housed in Project Roomkey hotels, a temporary housing solution for vulnerable populations during the pandemic. Most of the residents have a disability, and several are veterans.

“One message I have continuously said is cities, particularly large urban cities, cannot solve their affordable housing and homeless problems by themselves,” says Shola Olatoye, director of Oakland’s Department of Housing & Community Services. “This project is evidence of the importance of partnerships at all levels of government and nonprofits.”

The $15.8 million project was financed through two sources—the state’s Homekey program and city funds.