Publicly funded hotel rooms intended to help homeless families weather the winter now will remain available through spring and summer.
The Bernalillo County Commission on Tuesday approved spending another $740,260 to continue renting space at an undisclosed local hotel through Sept. 30. That will cover rooms for 24 families and another three for project staff and laundry purposes.
The county launched the “winter wellness hotel” effort in late 2022 with a $1 million appropriation. That was to fund 50 hotel rooms through the season.
Greg Perez, deputy county manager for public safety, said 71 different families have used the space since then. At its peak, the population included 80 children.
Instead of ending the program as planned, he said the county will keep the rooms open to aid families he said are on the verge of finding permanent housing. That could include a rental-assistance voucher or planned moves in with other family members.
“What we’re trying to do is buy them more time instead of kicking them out into the street and putting them back to level zero,” Perez said in an interview.
The motel program doesn’t come cheap. Each room costs about $2,100 per month to rent, which includes a daily breakfast. The operation requires staff monitors (over $19,000 per month) and security ($18,200 per month), plus nightly dinner for residents.
The funding comes from a special behavioral health tax assessed on the sale of goods and services in the county.
Perez said the operation could end up costing less, depending on staffing needs. He said the hotel had some “challenging” clientele during the winter, which required 24/7 security, but the families who remain have followed rules and have made progress toward finding permanent housing.
To date, eight families have moved from the hotel into housing, he said.
In approving the next round of funding, county commissioners acknowledged the hotel’s importance but raised questions about data and budgeting. Commissioner Eric Olivas said he worried that the county keeps treating the expense as though it is temporary or a “pilot” project despite funding a hotel shelter two winters in a row and now extending it into spring and summer. He said the county needs transitional housing but hotels are a costly and fleeting way to provide it.
“We have to get to a place where this is transparent and fits in with overall plan and addresses the long-term need,” Olivas said. “When we’re spending $100,000 for (hotel) security for six months, that’s money we could’ve spent on security for a permanent facility, or when we’re spending $25,000 for damage reimbursement, again, that’s money that could be going for a permanent facility or permanent solution.”
Commissioner Adriann Barboa, meanwhile, said she wanted the county to establish clear goals for the hotel, particularly if it becomes an ongoing expense.
County Manager Julie Morgas Baca said the county will begin counting the hotel as a recurring expense but that there are plans for a more permanent alternative to the hotel.