Old Mill & Suites is pictured in Bend, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The city of Bend hopes to convert the motel into transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Old Mill & Suites is pictured in Bend, Ore., Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The city of Bend hopes to convert the motel into transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness.

Bradley W. Parks / OPB

Bend City Council approved a purchase and sale agreement on Wednesday to secure a motel for transitional housing.

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With repairs, the Old Mill & Suites building would provide 64 housing units for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness in Central Oregon. The red-and-white lodging is a block from a Rite Aid drugstore and close to transit and other services.

The council agreed to purchase the motel for no more than $5 million as it seeks to score funding from a state program created last year. Bend is among several applicants pursuing a grant from Project Turnkey, which is overseen by the Oregon Community Foundation and aims to boost affordable housing stock statewide.

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Converting the motel would provide one piece of a larger housing puzzle in Central Oregon.

“There’s all sorts of different ways that people are feeling the crunch from the housing crisis and the affordable housing crisis in Bend,” said Councilor Melanie Kebler. “And this is one tool to help us solve that crisis and to make sure people are sheltered and housed in our community.”

The city estimates nearly 1,000 people are experiencing homelessness in Central Oregon on any given night. Additionally, increased housing costs and slow wage growth have priced out many low- and middle-income people in recent years.

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Bend has laid out a roadmap for easing its housing shortage, which includes establishing temporary and emergency shelters in the short-term while seeking out permanent affordable and transitional housing options in the long-term.

Kebler said converting the motel would move the city “one step closer to providing some transitional housing for community members here in Bend.”

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The city would still need to make zoning updates and do public outreach before transforming the motel. Project Turnkey must also approve the building and the management plan, which the city is working on with NeighborImpact and other service organizations, before awarding a grant.

The original proposal to fund Project Turnkey became the subject of controversy in the Oregon Legislature last year as the state faced catastrophic wildfires and a raging pandemic.

The project’s backers asked the Legislature’s Emergency Board for $65 million — $30 million of which would go to securing housing for people displaced by wildfires and the rest to housing projects elsewhere in the state. Dissenting lawmakers argued the latter request was being used to score political points, and so the board approved less than half of the total amount.

The additional $35 million in funding came up for debate again two weeks later — after the election — and was approved.

A study released in 2019 by Oregon Housing and Community Services estimates the state needs more than 5,800 additional beds to shelter everyone.

Project Turnkey says it will create about 1,000 of those beds all told. It awarded the first grant Thursday to a group in Ashland that will convert a Super 8 motel into a shelter for 20-30 people. The group, Options for Helping Residents of Ashland, hopes to partially open the new facility by early March.

“The goal is to really work with people to help them find that permanent solution,” OHRA executive director Michelle Arellano said in a virtual press conference Thursday.

Project Turnkey must allocate the full $65 million in grant funding by the end of June.

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