The Vancouver Housing Authority is looking to purchase another Clark County hotel or motel to convert into a housing project.
VHA purchased the former Howard Johnson hotel near Vancouver Mall in February and is working to transform it into a noncongregate homeless shelter. The 63-room shelter, named the Bertha Cain Baugh Place, is expected to open in September, according to a news release.
Through funding from the Legislature’s Rapid Capital Housing Acquisition program, VHA is considering at least one more project to create shelter, transitional housing or affordable housing beds in the county.
The ideal building would be near public transportation and grocery stores and other services, according to Executive Director Roy Johnson.
The Vancouver Housing Authority would also prefer a facility meant for extended stays, equipped with kitchenettes in the rooms, but it will consider facilities of all sizes and types, according to the release. Whether the project will be used as an emergency shelter, transitional housing or longer-term affordable housing will depend on the compatibility of the buildings VHA considers.
Kate Budd, executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said that whichever use VHA settles on would be positive for the community.
“The key is continuing to diversify the types of housing in the community,” Budd said.
She’s eager to see the impact of Bertha’s Place on the homeless population, and said the effects of that facility might change priorities for future investments.
Oregon has a similar initiative, called Project Turnkey, and other states are also investing in the strategy of converting hotels into housing.
The biggest benefit of housing people in hotels is the noncongregate design of the buildings, according to Budd. She said the individual rooms reduce the traumas people experience in more communal shelters and gives them more of a sense of dignity.
The hotels also make for faster turnaround in reopening the facilities. Johnson said converting the spaces typically takes less than 12 months, where building a new facility could take two to three years. With the high costs of construction and land, VHA Chief Operating Officer Andy Silver said the push to convert hotels into housing is particularly timely.
One piece of puzzle
Still, no single hotel will solve the housing problem in Vancouver, Silver said, which will require a more long-term strategy.
“There is more need for housing than there are hotels,” he said, noting that this can’t be the only solution to homelessness in the area.
The pandemic in particular shined a light on homelessness and those living without shelter, he said, in addition to Sunday and Monday’s 90-degree temperatures.
Within five years, the housing authority plans to transition any temporary housing facilities into long-term affordable units, according to Johnson. The goal should always be for those in emergency shelters to work their way to permanent housing, Budd said. A rule of thumb is that for every shelter bed, there should be five affordable housing units created, she said.
The housing authority is not limiting the project’s location to the Vancouver city limits or any part of the city because, Johnson said, “We could use more affordable housing everywhere in the county.”
Before settling on the Howard Johnson in February, VHA was considering three different sites, according to Johnson. He said they wouldn’t want to turn down an opportunity to create housing faster.
In future projects, Budd sees a need for more beds dedicated to people between the ages of 18 and 24. She also noted one of the fastest growing groups of unhoused people is senior citizens.
Catholic Community Services of Western Washington is hiring staff for Bertha Cain Baugh Place, according to VHA. Renovation work will continue there after people move in in September.
Interested hotel or motel owners can contact Johnson at 360-993-9500.