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Redwood City council members agreed to pitch in $1.3 million for the project, a day after a fire raged through an encampment near the hotel.

REDWOOD CITY — A Comfort Inn and Suites could soon be home to new permanent housing and high-quality support to dozens of formerly homeless people thanks to millions of dollars in state and city funds.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday awarded $16 million in state Homekey funds to San Mateo County to transform the hotel at 1818 El Camino Real on the south side of downtown Redwood City and bring much-needed homes for unhoused people amid a worsening affordability crisis.

The 51-room hotel — which is centrally located near public transit, a public library, grocery stores, and two hospitals — will be renovated to add kitchenettes and officials hope they will serve as transitional homes for the county’s 1,500 unhoused residents, 900 of them completely unsheltered.

Residents will have access to on-site education, employment, mental health rehabilitation and medical assistance services from third-party agencies like Alta Housing and the Mental Health Association of San Mateo County.

“Every homeless individual in San Mateo County who wants shelter deserves the opportunity to receive it and these funds provide an amazing opportunity to do that,” County Manager Mike Callagy said. “These funds create real and lasting change in the lives of those they help and bring us one step closer to reaching functional zero homelessness.”

In the past year, the county has received nearly $33 million from the Homekey program to purchase the Pacific Inn in Redwood City and the TownePlace Suites Hotel. Farther down on the Peninsula, Mountain View has also received money to transform the Crestview Hotel into supportive housing.

In December 2021, the state gave San Mateo County $68 million, of which $55.3 million will be used to build a homeless shelter and Navigation Center with 240 beds in Redwood City, and the rest will be used to support the purchase, rehab and operation of the 44-room Stone Villa Inn in San Mateo for immediate, temporary shelter.

The addition of the Comfort Inn and Suites is expected to help expand the network of homeless services in the county, add beds for the city’s homeless, help keep people off the streets and from the dangers of improvised housing.

That danger became clear on Sunday after a fire raged through tents, bedding and belongings at one of the city’s largest and most well-established encampments on the Woodside Road and El Camino cloverleaf interchange, just a few minutes away from the Comfort Inn and Suites.

The fire began at 1:35 p.m. and ended less than four hours later resulting in no injuries, but an adjacent four-plex residential property and two cars also were damaged, as well as many tents and personal property.

On Monday, Mayor Giselle Hale called on CalTrans to “come to the table” this week to develop an immediate plan to protect the community “from the health and safety issues created by encampments on their land,” according to a statement.

With the news of the previous day’s fire hanging over the discussion, the Redwood City Council later that evening unanimously agreed to help in the hotel renovation by committing more than $1.3 million in unspent federal funds.

Council members were keen to move forward with the Homekey project on the condition that a preference is given to Redwood City residents to prevent more encampment fires like Sunday’s and improve the health and safety of the city’s unhoused.

Encouraging council members to approve the proposed Comfort Inn and Suites investment during the council meeting, San Mateo County Department of Housing Director Raymond Hodges said there is an opportunity for coordinating with that specific encampment to move unhoused folks into the hotel.

“We want to get anyone who’s on the street into our system with a coordinated entry system to move them directly into housing if we have the opportunity,” Hodges said.

But it’s not immediate relief for the city’s homeless.

The county is currently expected to acquire the site in early spring of this year, and rehab will start shortly thereafter through fall 2022, with potential leasing starting in late 2022 or early 2023, Housing Leadership Manager Alin Lancaster said.

Still, coordinating between a network of supportive housing across the county working with a referral system is the county and city’s strategy to quickly get people off the streets and into safe living conditions.

“The council has clearly shown homelessness is a top priority and it couldn’t be more timely than tonight given all that’s happened this weekend,” council member Diane Howard said. “This was a hotel waiting to be purchased pretty much, so I’m glad it’s going to be renovated and rehabbed and made for Redwood City residents.”