Featured photo: Greensboro’s city leaders are eager to transform the former Regency Inn into supportive housing. After months of delays on the project, Step Up on Second’s CEO Tod Lipka and Slate Property Group’s CIO Brian Vetter updated the city’s mayor and councilmembers on their plan for the property. (photo by Gale Melcher)

“How many more of our houseless friends have to die before we get them housing?”

That’s the question Greensboro Councilmember Zack Matheny asked on Tuesday while council debated what to do about the situation at the Regency Inn, a decrepit motel located at 2701 N. O. Henry Blvd. The city has been trying to turn the units into permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people for several years. In November 2021, the city gave Partnership Homes a $3 million loan to purchase the property and an additional $271,560 for repairs. According to Guilford County property records, it was sold to the organization for $2.75 million. Presently, it’s valued at $2.62 million. 

The property served as a winter shelter in 2021 and 2022, but it’s been vacant for the last year and half, City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba said. The building doesn’t have a sprinkler system, and Partnership Homes still has an unpaid debt of $562 on their tax bill that was due in September.

In May, another organization stepped up to the plate: Step Up on Second, a California-based non-profit that develops permanent supportive housing projects nationwide. 

Step Up has also been in hot water with one of their developers, Shangri-La Industries. Four out of Shangri-La’s seven motel conversion projects remain unfinished in California, where a $100 million lawsuit was recently filed against the developer and Step Up.

When word reached North Carolina, the city of Asheville brought their project with Step Up to a grinding halt and Winston-Salem leaders say they are “not likely” to move forward with the company.

While Greensboro city leaders like Matheny were rattled by the news, the city is currently sticking with Step Up, which will be using a different developer called Slate Property Group.

And because the property doesn’t belong to the city, councilmembers like Matheny and Sharon Hightower feel like their hands are tied.

“We don’t own it, and when you don’t own it you don’t control it,” Hightower said.

In an interview with TCB, a member of the homeless community named Toad also thinks that the city “needs to buy” the Regency. In May, the city agreed to fund case management services at $500 per client per month. Step Up also pledged to develop 150 units of permanent supportive housing in Greensboro within three years. Toad feels that the city is simply treating the issue of homelessness rather than solving it, saying, “It’s all a money grab right now, and too many people are lining their pockets.”

City Manager Taiwo Jaiyeoba and City Attorney Chuck Watts offer advice to council. (GTN screenshot)

What’s Step Up’s plan?

Step Up originally had a plan to turn the old motel into 57 units of permanent supportive housing, but “outstanding environmental issues” and “subsequent discoveries about the structural integrity of the building” have caused delays, Jaiyeoba said. Due to the extent of the damage, the original buildings can’t be rehabilitated and will have to be torn down, so Step Up might need to ask for more city funding. The environmental issues are a new piece of information to council. 

“The fact that we didn’t do our own due diligence before lending the dollars is beyond my imagination,” Matheny said, exhibiting frustration.

In May, Matheny was eager to work with Step Up, saying that the city needed a “change-up.”

“We need another group to come in and aid us in the most proper manner possible,” he added.

But on Tuesday, Matheny felt that the city was “kicking the can down the road.”

He added, “I just don’t see us moving the needle on this.”

“I understand your frustration,” City Attorney Chuck Watts said, “but these kinds of deals take forever.”

Watts’ answer wasn’t good enough for other councilmembers, either.

“Our community needs us to move quickly,” Hightower said.

“People are houseless. They can’t wait.” 

Step Up’s new property developer Slate Property Group has a new plan to build 201 units — 58 units of permanent supportive housing for people who are chronically homeless and 143 units of affordable housing. The site will have 175 parking spots plus amenities like a clubhouse and bike racks, per the blueprints.

Step Up’s CEO Tod Lipka and Slate’s CIO Brian Vetter agreed to update city leaders at the Feb. 20 meeting with a schedule for the project and “as many specifics” as possible.

Councilmember Tammi Thurm suggested that they could use the city’s Pallet shelters to house people while they’re waiting for the property to be developed. Lipka said they would be “receptive” to that plan. The Pallet shelters are currently housing people at Pomona Park until the end of March.

Slate Property Group’s new plan for the Regency Inn property at 2701 N. O. Henry Blvd. (photo by Gale Melcher)

What else is the city doing to help vulnerable people?

On Tuesday, the city signed off to give  $1.5 million to the Servant Center, an organization that helps house veterans as well as people with low incomes and disabilities, for 43 total beds for their medically fragile residents. The Servant Center will be renovating 1915 Boulevard Street, a building that was formerly an assisted-living facility. They already have multiple units at Glenwood and Haworth Houses for low-income disabled individuals, primarily veterans, and 100 percent of these residents between 2021-22 remained housed. A 21-bed transitional-housing facility for veterans called the Servant House, which opened in 1999, moved 90 percent of their residents into permanent housing. They also have a rapid rehousing program that moved 80 percent of their 77 residents into permanent housing between 2021-22.

Executive Director Shanna Reece told the city that since they already have a medical respite model for the veterans they serve, this program is “not a big stretch.”

They also won’t have to come back to the city for more money since the operational costs will be covered thanks to Medicaid expansion.

When people leave the hospital, sometimes “they have nowhere to go,” Reece told TCB.

The Servant Center’s Executive Director Shanna Reece explains their newly-funded program. (GTN screenshot)

“We hear many, many stories of people who are medically fragile being at Center City Park or they’re in the hospital for months because they have nowhere to discharge them to or maybe someone’s on the street and needs a medical test and they have nowhere to recover.”

And when people who are unhoused have medical needs, “it’s worse for their health,” she said. “Sometimes it can lead to worse health complications and even death if they don’t get the care that they need.”

“We see folks outside all the time,” Reece said.

So what has been the key to success for the Servant Center?

Reese says that it’s “the partnerships.”

In addition to support from the city, the county and the Veterans Administration, local foundations have been very helpful as well, Reece said. 

And the community is “rallying around” them, Reece said. “We all know there’s a need.”

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