Advocates and city supervisors have pushed for The City to use vacant hotel rooms to shelter homeless residents. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Controller estimates using hotels for shelter will cost $197 per room per day for first 2,000 rooms

The first batch of about 2,000 hotel rooms The City is signing leases on to shelter the homeless and first responders will cost about $197 each per night, the City Controller said Wednesday.

The City is using the vacant hotel rooms as shelter during the coronavirus health crisis for first responders, those who need to be quarantined and for homeless residents— although the exact amount of the latter The City will move into hotel rooms remains unknown. That is subject to a debate between the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield said Wednesday that The City has about 1,977 hotel rooms under contract or close to being under contract. He estimated that the cost of these hotel rooms over three months will come to $35 million, a cost that includes some services like security and janitors, but does not include health services that may be needed.

Supervisor Matt Haney joined several other supervisors Tuesday in introducing legislation to require The City to procure 8,250 hotel rooms by April 26 to house the homeless, first responders and those who need to quarantine, with 7,000 of them dedicated to housing the homeless.

Haney on Wednesday defended the cost of the rooms to The City.

“There’s nothing more costly than people losing their lives, or a virus that spreads and infects thousands, filling up our hospitals and emergency rooms,” Haney said. “Making sure that everyone can shelter in place, including homeless people, is essential to flattening the spread of the virus and getting our city and economy moving again.”

The City is expected to have a large portion of the costs reimbursed.

“Our expectation is that FEMA will reimburse us for a significant portion of that cost,” Rosenfield said, noting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency rules are “evolving.”

He said that at the moment FEMA will reimburse for either congregate or non-congregate housing for people under investigation for COVID-19 or who have tested positive as well as for those over 65 and with certain medical conditions.

“The ultimate reimbursement from FEMA here will really largely depend on how we fill these units and with who and whether or not those individuals are eligible for reimbursement,” he said.

In the case of the 1,977 hotel rooms costing $35 million, Rosenfield estimated that FEMA would reimburse The City up to $20 million, leaving The City to cover about $15 million.

He said other funding sources could help, such as funding from the recently approved federal stimulus package.

Rosenfield also estimated that up to 7,000 hotel rooms would cost $105 million over three months with a possible FEMA reimbursement of $55 million, leaving $50 million in costs for The City to shoulder.

His estimates were presented Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

In recent days, Breed’s response to the homeless has shifted away from using larger congregate shelters to thin out the existing shelter population amid criticism from advocates who argued those large settings put the homeless at risk. Her strategy now relies more heavily on hotel rooms. The initial strategy was to prioritize the hotel rooms only for homeless who tested positive or were possibly exposed to the virus.

The hotel rooms are being procured by Trent Rhorer, the director of the Human Services Agency, who is responsible for shelter during the coronavirus health crisis.

Rhorer said at a press conference with Breed Wednesday that there are currently 67 first responders in hotel rooms and 184 mostly homeless people.

He said he plans to procure about 7,000 hotel rooms for the specific groups he has prioritized, which includes homeless residents who are over the age of 60 and have underlying health conditions who are both on the street and in shelters. That is in addition to homeless residents who are exposed to the virus.

But his strategy still apparently falls short of what Haney and his colleagues are asking for.

A vote on the legislation is expected next week.

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