SVdP Commons: Under Construction
Hope Is Where the Heart Is
About the Project
When completed, the SVdP Commons project will convert an abandoned motel into approximately 50 permanent supportive housing units for formerly homeless people transitioning from living on the streets, or from a local transitional shelter. At the Commons, rent is as low as $568 per month, which can be paid with a voucher.
This project has been a few years in the making, but is now in its final stretch. In December of 2021, SVDP received its building permit from City of Santa Rosa Building Officials. Fundraising has paid off the loan used to acquire the property. And more recently, SVDP applied for $12 million from the State of California's Project Homekey2 Fund. If awarded, construction will begin within a couple months from being funded.
This website will chronicle the progress of the project, the status and temporary relocation of the current tenants, the status of the Homekey award, and construction updates.
We offer our sincere gratitude to all of our donors and partners in this project.
Cell: (707) 495-7438
“Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do”
Response to the Press Democrat
I am embarrassed and disheartened to have to write this today, but as you can imagine, those of us at St. Vincent de Paul were outraged and hurt by the article our local newspaper, The Press Democrat, chose to run, despite megabytes of information and documented evidence sent to their journalists, Ethan Varian and Andrew Graham, to explain our position and directly dispel claims made by some of our residents at the Gold Coin Motel, which we purchased a few years ago to renovate and turn into permanent supportive housing.
We were disheartened because we chose to take the hard road by taking these tenants on. It was not planned for, financially or programmatically. We did it because we knew the alternative was much, much worse. Since then, we’ve spent hundreds of thousands of unplanned dollars to make the units better than they were before, we reduced rent, we gave people jobs who couldn’t afford to pay, and our staff cleared back rent by pairing tenants with the County’s rental assistance program. I share this not to be self-aggrandizing, but to share a side of the story the Press Democrat willingly chose not to share with you.
When we received notice from the city over ten days ago that they would be conducting inspections, we were not surprised. The city has done this roughly twice per year since we acquired the property. Just prior to our purchasing it, the motel had just been moved into red tagged status. We invested over $125,000 right away to bring it up to code so the tenants could stay, and we have spent over $400,000 to date to keep it in occupiable status. Following these efforts, the city deemed the units safe for occupancy and have done so five times since then. All this documentation and more was provided to the Press Democrat. For every claim that was made against us, we provided documented evidence that directly countered and debunked those claims.
When a newspaper, or any media outlet, launches an investigative piece, you would think these important details would make it into the article. However, in our case, they did not. Andrew and Ethan blatantly disregarded and omitted the information we provided them. Already, SVdP has formally requested two retractions, based on recorded evidence captured by Ethan and Andrew, which was changed after notifying Press Democrat management.
I knew that when we got hit with this inquiry from the Press Democrat it wasn’t going to be good for us, but I wholeheartedly believed that if I took the time to walk Ethan and Andrew through all our documentation of steps taken and issues addressed, they would be ethically bound to report those facts. What I read in the online edition of yesterday’s paper did anything but. It was dishonest, biased, and unethical journalism. Flat out.
But I am not just going to light a fire to watch things burn. I want anyone who is interested in this story, or doubts the efforts made by St. Vincent de Paul, to see for themselves. Below are explanations and links to just a snippet of the information provided to the Press Democrat to back up every single claim we made, as well as directly counter claims that were made against our staff. It’s all there for you to see, just as they’ve seen it. The only change is that I have redacted the names of the tenants for their privacy. There is more documentation, also. Should anyone wish to see it, I will eagerly provide it.
In this day and age, it is no wonder why a recent Gallup poll found that more than 80% of Americans have a distrust of media. Only 16% said they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of trust in media. This article contributes to that problem.
From now on, I will use my professional and public position to hold the newspaper and its journalists to a higher standard. There is no hypocrisy more egregious than a journalist “holding people accountable” by willingly omitting the facts to elicit a very intentional response. Going forward, we will be joining the growing number of individuals and organizations that will not cooperate with the Press Democrat until there is a culture shift, nor will we share any information with them. A dishonest paper has not earned the privilege that is the responsibility of reporting the truth.
Below is a point-by-point rebuttal to the Press Democrat’s claims, with evidence to counter their narrative. If anyone has any questions for me or about the job we do at SVdP, I hope you will reach out.
In the article, reporters Ethan Varian and Andrew Graham paint a picture defined as neglectful, dismissive, and irresponsible. We were even given questions to this effect in a clear attempt to rope the answers they wanted. When you look at the substantial data we provided them, and the answers to their questions in writing, you will see that SVdP has been anything but neglectful and irresponsible.
As I did with Ethan and Andrew, I am going to take each claim one-by-one and refute it with documented information. Remember, this is the exact same information we provided to them in response to their questions.
Here is a comprehensive write-up my staff and I prepared in the week leading up to the article. All the claims made in this report can be backed up with documentation. If you only have time to read one document, please read this.
Full Response and Background for the Press Democrat: https://drive.google.com/file/d/178-TF9uIB13SSKKf3KnSuvni3JXY9kPl/view?usp=sharing
In the article, right off the bat, Ethan and Andrew use one of the residents in the two-bedroom “Room One” as an example of neglect and abandonment by SVDP staff. When we were asked if we knew about the needs of the residents in Room One, we told them we had conducted repairs to their window and bathroom as recently as June 22nd, 2021. Specifically, we repaired their toilet and their windowpane that had broken because of the excess weight of their belongings piled against it (this is the same window mentioned in their article that is now broken again).
When we were there conducting repairs in June, we did not see mold, but we did see excessive belongings piled floor to ceiling. We then showed the reporters six documented posted notices that we provided to the family over the course of May, June, July, August, and September of 2021. Each notice was an attempt to enter and inspect, and each noticed was posted in Spanish, informing the family they needed to abate the excess belongings.
As you will see in our 2021 Manager’s Log staff even offered alternate storage, understanding it can be difficult to part with the belongings. Finally, the 2021 Manager’s Log shows over 47 interactions with residents where SVdP staff was responsive to issues. This does not include the daily drive-throughs that occur at the Gold Coin to clear out homeless folks who frequently seek refuge under the shelter of the carports.
See our manager’s log, which is a running record of issues raised and our responses to them. We also hired a contractor to assist with some debris removal from their unit. See the complete log for more information.
1st Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1joGuawMqONNEsN0ZqFtYlFDTmrDjGuoQ/view?usp=sharing
2nd Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1mFylbahzJSpG0Qoh_0TqJKs2bBjxYR6n/view?usp=sharing
3rd Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1iwTuK7szH_dYEtq9QOZVZILeeHXQZm-m/view?usp=sharing
4th Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1tDJQPyUvdbyoAlCkYh0HqHCWemqLIByA/view?usp=sharing
5th Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate:
6th Notice Posted to Inspect and Abate: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1wAerKaILL6UmdWWVC1qsLj65vnpqcD8n/view?usp=sharing
2. Unresponsive to Requests for Maintenance
In the article, it is also suggested by another tenant that she is withholding rent from SVdP due to her displeasure with the lack of maintenance. Not once has our property manager recorded a complaint from this person. It is also important to note that we have had two opportunities for all residents to notify us of maintenance that is needed, in addition to the opportunity to notify us anytime verbally, or via text and email.
First, we just concluded a two-month (legal) comment period with our residents that began with a resident meeting. The meeting was led by our housing relocation specialists who informed the residents of their relocation rights and financial entitlement due them during the upcoming construction period.
During this meeting, residents were asked to register any complaints during the two-month comment period so they could be addressed. Further, when I asked Ethan and Andrew if they could provide any documentation from residents, such as emails or texts, informing us about repairs that were needed, they could not.
I told them that our process for residents is to first speak with our property manager. If he is not responsive, then reach out to our Housing Director. If he is not responsive, they can reach out to me (Jack). Neither our Property Manager, nor our Housing Director, nor I have received any complaints about the condition of the units. And believe me, when we were contacted about this article, we quickly searched our phones and emails to make sure we didn’t miss anything. We did not.
You can see a copy of our relocation plan here. It describes the open comment period, and was also provided to the Press Democrat.
See Complete Relocation Plan Here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1Aabt8O8IccIyq-ANqb_tJTJVeYnFUHSP/view?usp=sharing
Ethan and Andrew also go to great lengths to talk about the $85,000 we collected in rental income since we acquired the property. Yet they make absolutely no mention of the fact that during the first six months of owning the property, SVdP collected no rent while making repairs to the units. Those repairs included everything required by code enforcement, as well as elective repairs that would enhance the condition of the units for the residents.
During this time, no rent was charged to any tenant. Further, we did not charge any tenant until everyone was able to pay.
Some residents did not have jobs or income, so SVdP hired two people to provided maintenance and groundskeeping on-site. Another was provided employment at our homeless shelter, Los Guilicos. What’s more, we provided rent rolls to the journalists showing that seven out of the 10 households were at one point in significant arrears of $1,000 or more. Some owed more than $10,000. Some were in arrears as long as two years, with the average being six months.
Despite this, SVdP did not evict. Instead, we paired them with rental assistance from the County and helped them get current. Today, five residents are currently in arrears totaling over $20,000.
It is also important to note that the residents paid more in rent under the previous owner than they do now. Consistent with HUD standards and our deed restriction, we charge $568 per studio, and $720 for the two-bedroom unit. Some households were paying as much as $1,800 under the previous ownership, for the same units, in red-tagged condition.
Please read our full report that we provided to Ethan and Andrew. In it, you will find a complete record of what individuals paid under the previous owners. We know what they paid because we had an independent third party conduct housing relocation interviews when we were in escrow and have a complete log of their financial information.
Attached is our report that discusses this in greater detail. We are not going to post our rent rolls publicly, as it has sensitive resident financial information, but we did provide these to Ethan Varian and Andrew Graham as proof. Every claim we make in our report can be backed up with documentation.
4. SVsP is Misusing Taxpayer Funds
While this is not directly stated, there is a strong implication that SVdP is consuming taxpayer funds and making a fortune from operating this complex which, in turn, is not seeing the same level of investment. To be clear, we are fundraising to complete the construction in one fell swoop. It is safer for the residents that way, less disruptive, and much more cost efficient. To restage subcontractors over and over would be a waste of donor and taxpayer funds. It would also draw out the project timeline unnecessarily.
That said, Ethan and Andrew refer to the $500,000 that was awarded to SVdP, yet make no mention of the fact that I emailed them to inform them that SVdP has not received the money from the County. This despite SVdP being awarded the funds by the Community Development Commission and the Board of Supervisors roughly one year ago. You would think that if you’re going to mention these funds, you should also mention that the funds were never remitted and received by SVdP and, therefore, are not available to do things such as make repairs.
Email to Reporters on Status of County NOFA: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zazPMfnHTgMKTQBIrjbXT4IC56XqdWmv/view?usp=sharing
5. It is “the tenant’s fault”
This really got to me, personally. During recorded phone interviews, Ethan and Andrew asked me, “who’s responsibility is it to ensure the rooms are maintained and things like mold prevented.” Knowing right away where they wanted to take this, I carefully responded it is “a shared responsibility between tenant and landlord.” In their initial article, they blatantly paraphrased that I stated it was “the tenant’s fault.”
I do not feel that way. SVdP takes responsibility for the conditions of the rooms we provide, and we do not blame tenants for the conditions of their units. We simply try to understand that early-in-life trauma can result in idiosyncrasies that can be difficult to overcome.
Fortunately, when I sought a retraction on this, they complied. However, this is the fourth retraction I had to seek from Andrew Graham and the Press Democrat's Managing Editor, Richard Green, in the last seven months.
Andrew has written things in previous articles that have been patently untrue. For example, in one article he wrote that I have taken financial contracts from the City of Santa Rosa for St. Vincent de Paul.
Of course, I’ve never done such a thing. Doing so would violate Penal Code 1090 and land me in jail. SVdP partners with a separate jurisdiction on homeless shelters, and that is the County of Sonoma. It is a separate government entity, with separate funds.
See email to Andrew and Ethan here where we asked for the following retractions. Two were complied with: my statement about maintenance being a shared responsibility, and the erroneous financial figure they reported.
Email to Reporters and PD Management seeking Retractions: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1yUQoQSzbOPBPnTYlz-QDtkPo7ovUd9Ip/view?usp=sharing
6. Lack of Investment
In the article, Ethan and Andrew claimed that we only invested $125,000 into repairs of the building, despite recorded phone conversations where I told them the amount was far greater. I also provided them with a figure that over $400,000 has been directly expended on repairing the occupied units, bringing them up to code to pass inspection, and the costs of maintaining them. This was later retracted and corrected.
We provided the Press Democrat with a complete accounting on the project, which you can also see at the link below.
Complete project financials and expenditures made to date: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/166zsJWLephrKlpTXcrKI3NevZp_fTy9o/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=109180834404172756830&rtpof=true&sd=true
In the article, it mentions crime is a significant problem, with “63 calls for police service” since we took over. What the reporters failed to also report is that we provided them with a much different figure that was provided to us in a code enforcement document from the City of Santa Rosa.
In that document, it states that there were over 6,000 calls for service between 2006 and 2019, the period of previous ownership. That’s roughly two calls per day. Since our ownership, presence, and addition of nightly security, this dropped to about two per month. That is a marked difference the reporters and their editors also chose to omit from the story.
8. A Final Word
What was perhaps the most frustrating thing about the article is that it inadequately addresses the dichotomous situation SVdP faced back when we purchased the property. We could have chosen to allow the evictions under the previous owner to continue, avoid the expense, and continue without the risk of unplanned property management. The other choice was to do what we could to keep a roof over people’s heads and prevent returns to homelessness.
We chose the latter and stand by that decision. It wasn’t a hard decision to make.
We knew we would have to deploy time and resources to remove the red tag and prevent evictions. We did just that. And even though the article likes to paint a picture of “squalor,” the truth of the matter is, all the rooms were brought up to code and passed repeated city inspections. We even made investments to enhance the condition of the units.
When our teams were done with this initial renovation, the rooms were unrecognizable from what they were.
When we bought the building, we entered a woman’s room that had cockroaches fall from the door jamb when we opened the door. What awaited us was a stained black mattress with no sheets where a mother and child slept. That is squalor.
What we upgraded the rooms to were marked improvements from what we inherited, with legal rooms that met the standards of health and safety codes established by law.
What is there now is not what will be there when we complete our project, nor is it to the standards St. Vincent de Paul is accustomed to providing. But let’s not forget it is four walls, a roof, and a door that can be locked compared to a tent under the overpass. On a weekly basis, our staff has had to run off people experiencing homelessness, who are just trying to find a room. We have gotten hundreds of calls from people who want a room here – including members of our own staff who are housing-insecure, despite earning $19.50 per hour. But the sad truth is, because of regulations and relocation expenses, we’ve turned them all away as units sit empty.
Below are links to copies of passed inspections in both official documents, and emails between Santa Rosa City Officials: