February 9, 2021

LA County Explores Using New Federal Guarantee to Expand Project Roomkey

Los Angeles, CA — After the Biden Administration announced plans to reimburse 100% of what counties and cities spend on non-congregate shelters, Supervisor Hahn wants to explore expanding LA County’s Project Roomkey program to use empty motel and hotel rooms to get more people indoors during the pandemic.

Project Roomkey was launched in March 2020 as part of the State of California and LA County’s effort to protect vulnerable residents from COVID-19. The program uses hotels and motels as short-term shelters for homeless residents over 65 or with serious health conditions. Previously, FEMA policy was to reimburse cities and counties for 75% of the costs of the program. On January 21st, President Biden issued an executive action increasing the FEMA reimbursement rate to 100%.

“Master leasing hotels and motels through Project Roomkey has been one of the most effective tools we have had to combat homelessness,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “If this new FEMA funding means we can expand this program, get more Project Roomkey sites up and running, and get more people off the streets, we absolutely should. This was the right thing for the Biden Administration to do and we should take full advantage of it.”

Today, Los Angeles the County Board of Supervisors passed a motion authored by Supervisors Hahn and Hilda Solis. The motion directs the LA County CEO and LAHSA to report back to the board in 15 days with opportunities for extending, renewing, or expanding county-contracted Project Roomkey sites. Importantly, the motion specifies including hotels and motels with fewer than 100 rooms which had not been eligible for the program.

“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Los Angeles County has taken many actions to reduce and prevent the spread of the virus among people experiencing homelessness, including rapidly standing up temporary housing at hotels and motels through Project Roomkey,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor to the First District. “The program has served as a beacon of hope, enabling us to immediately bring some of our most vulnerable indoors to protect them from contracting COVID-19 and to set them on a path to permanent housing. We must continue to use every resource to protect the health and safety of our unhoused neighbors. This motion seeks to do just that.”

Importantly, the Hahn-Solis motion also directs the County’s advocates in Washington, DC to write a letter to the Biden Administration urging them to provide upfront the funding for non-congregate shelters. One obstacle to taking advantage of the FEMA reimbursement is the length of time the County must wait to be reimbursed. FEMA can take a year or longer to reimburse local entities, straining local budgets.

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