Community remains divided over Larkin Place homeless housing
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, Claremont residents got a second chance to hear directly from the company that wants to build affordable housing for formerly homeless people in Claremont.
The second meeting with Jamboree Housing Corporation was subdued compared with the first. At the March 31 gathering, a large, energized and sometimes disorderly crowd peppered company officials with pointed questions about its plan to house formerly homeless people with special needs in a proposed 33-unit four-story building at 731 Harrison Avenue.
The project, called Larkin Place, would be limited to extremely low-income people, those who earn at or below 30% of the area median and who also have some type of disability. It would offer housing, as well as onsite resident services such as counseling, health resources, and adult enrichment and education classes.
Last Thursday a smaller and less disruptive crowd heard a short presentation from Jamboree’s Chief Development Officer Michael Massie and Director of Supportive Services Danielle Latteri, followed by a nearly three-hour question and answer session. Though the tone was more relaxed, emotions were clearly still elevated, and residents’ concerns remained consistent: that the development’s location next to an athletic field at Larkin Park and near El Roble Middle School was unacceptable.
A strong contingent of supporters, including advocates for affordable housing, lauded the project, calling it an important and bold move by the city to address the growing homeless population in Claremont and the region.
At the core of the project’s controversy lies the very real possibility that Claremont officials, including the city council, have little or no power to prevent Larkin Place from being built. California code identifies housing as a critical issue for the state’s future, and requires that “a local government not reject or make infeasible housing development projects, including emergency shelters, that contribute to meeting the need.”
If a community wants to fight the construction of affordable housing, it must show a preponderance of evidence that one of five distinct conditions have been met: the city has met or exceeded its Regional Housing Needs Assessment; the project would have a specific, adverse impact on public health or safety; a specific state or federal law supersedes; the proposed project is on land zoned for agriculture or resource preservation; or the housing development is inconsistent with both the jurisdiction’s zoning ordinance and general plan. None of these apply to Claremont, according to the city’s planning staff.
Such projects are referred to as “by-right,” meaning the approval process is largely ministerial, including a density bonus that boosted the unit count at Larkin Place by 80%.
Massie said there is a lack of consensus about what by-right actually means and that it really doesn’t apply to Larkin Place because Jamboree would rather work with local jurisdictions to see a project through.
“There is some confusion as to what by-right actually means because it’s not settled law. Regardless, it’s not at the top of my concern list as to whether it is by-right because it’s very important to me that we have buy-in from the community, and that includes the city council,” Massie said.
He also said the company had no intention of pursuing the accelerated and streamlined approval process for affordable housing under California’s Senate Bill 35.
As part of that buy-in process, the company has scheduled four additional meetings, the first of which took place this Thursday after press time. The next meeting, on Monday, will cover property management and tenant selection, followed by another on May 31, during which supportive services will be discussed. The final meeting is scheduled for June 8 and does not yet have a topic.
During last Thursday’s meeting, Massie and Latteri fielded questions on a wide range of issues, including the financial structure of the company, the vetting process for future tenants and the population that will be housed at Larkin Place. Safety issues included the concern that future tenants will attract drug dealing to Larkin Park, that substance abuse will not be checked at the building, and that residents will have severe mental illness — all of which pose risks to vulnerable populations including children and seniors.
“What we have seen from our permanent supportive housing units, the safety concerns that you are worried about just don’t happen. These are people. These are people who have had hard times who have experienced trauma,” Massie said. “They are going to be at the park, they are going to be at the store. Yes, that is our hope. So that they can continue to live their lives productively. And we have seen that happen again and again. We don’t see things that are threatening to schoolchildren or to seniors or to the general community.”
Several residents voiced exasperation with what they say is misinformation about the project, including the assertion that all formerly homeless people have addiction issues or are mentally ill and therefore are inherently dangerous.
Latteri said the target population in Claremont is people experiencing homelessness who are also disabled. Of that population, 50% have some type of chronic health issue that, in many cases, has been exacerbated by living on the streets. Approximately 28% exhibited some type of mental illness, while 17% had substance abuse issues.
“And we are wrapping around support to help them become better citizens and engage in the community around them. And community connection and social support is a huge indicator of recovery and getting better in your mental illness if someone is experiencing that, but not all of them will be,” Latteri said.
Future tenants of Larkin Place will be vetted by the company and by county officials to ensure that they are a good fit for housing. However, overnight visitors will not be screened, which raised concerns that a multitude of unvetted guests will essentially be living there. Latteri clarified that visitors would be limited to 21 nights per year, far fewer than was reported at the previous meeting, and would have a maximum consecutive stay of seven days.
She said they were working on a program that would give preferential access to homeless people currently living in Claremont in the tenant selection process.
During his presentation, Massie cited Jamboree’s first project in Claremont, Courier Place, as an example of one the company’s more successful ventures, and asserted that concerns about safety surrounding that project did not materialize.
Critics say that Courier Place is a poor comparison because it is not permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless people. However, another project, Hillview Court in Milpitas, provides a window into what could happen in Claremont.
Hillview Court is a former Extended Stay America hotel comprising 134 studio units, which was converted into housing for homeless people by Jamboree in late 2020. The project was funded through Project Homekey, which was an effort to get people off the street during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group calling itself Safe and Transparent Claremont reports that crime has increased around the Hillview Court site since Jamboree took over, including a murder last April.
“Safe and Transparent Claremont is a diverse collection of neighbors, residents and concerned citizens trying to promote rational conversations and provide facts which are not being disclosed by Jamboree, Pilgrim Place or the City regarding Larkin Place,” according to the group’s website.
According to the Milpitas Beat, the murder victim was not a vetted resident of Hillview Court, but was given access to the building by an employee of the company handling property management at the time, an account that Massie confirmed. Jamboree has since replaced that company, FPI Management.
Massie said the Hillview Court project is very different from Larkin Place, due to it being part of the Homekey Project, which literally took people off the street and got them into housing, making it more of a shelter than permanent housing.
“Because it’s a shelter population there are incidents. There has been substantial police activity there, and there was also very tragically a murder that took place onsite. It involved none of the residents, it was actually folks related to our property management staff,” Massie said.
Jamboree has been slowly converting Hillview Court into permanent supportive housing, a process that should be complete by July.
Charmaine Angelo, public information officer for the City of Milpitas, agreed to schedule an interview with the city’s police chief to discuss Hillview Court, but could not meet the COURIER’s deadline for this week. Watch for further details in a future edition.