The City of Scottsdale is walking back a provision that would have sheltered people residing in a large homeless encampment in Phoenix after a Republican lawmaker’s intervention.
Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, recently penned a letter to the Arizona Department of Housing notifying the department he believed Scottsdale’s plan to house unsheltered people from “The Zone” in the city’s hotel shelter program was unlawful.
The city’s program is funded by a $940,000 grant from the Department of Housing. It converts 10 hotel rooms in an undisclosed hotel to a temporary shelter for seniors, families and single mothers. The city originally intended to use three of the rooms to house senior women, single mothers and children or families from “The Zone,” several of which are impacted by the lift of Title 42 in May, a Trump administration pandemic public health restriction that allowed border officials to deny migrants entry into the country.
Department of Housing Director Joan Serviss responded to Gress on Aug. 18 and confirmed to him the city will not use shelter beds and services provided by the grant to individuals from “The Zone” or who are impacted by Title 42.
“This is a victory for the safety and well-being of Scottsdale’s residents, many who staunchly oppose their tax dollars being spent to house homeless from other cities and foreign nationals who should have been deported under Title 42,” Gress said in a news release. “I maintain serious concerns regarding the city’s intentions to utilize area hotels for this purpose and intend to pursue this matter further.”
Gress, in his role as chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said he will soon announce a committee hearing to examine the approach of converting hotels to housing shelters.
Serviss wrote in her response to Gress that the Department of Housing stands by the validity of its contract with Scottsdale and not serving individuals from “The Zone” or affected by Title 42 won’t breach the contract.
Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega confirmed Monday in a text to The Arizona Capitol Times that the hotel program will now only serve Scottsdale-area veterans, displaced seniors and single-parent families. While he said he was glad attention was being brought to this group of disadvantaged people, he felt the hotel program had been sensationalized.
Scottsdale started its hotel housing program in 2021, which assists about 120 people annually. A Scottsdale news release stated 84% of participants in the program secure housing within 30 to 90 days.
Ortega noted Gress and Senate Appropriations Chairman John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, both approved the program when they voted to pass the state budget, which designates funds for the Department of Housing grants like the hotel program.
“It is unclear why Rep. Gress contradicts himself now. Some might call it hypocrisy,” Ortega said. “Scottsdale businesses and residents expect us to be accountable and apply resources to help the vulnerable get back on their feet. Rep. Gress needs to find a way to work together. My door is open to him to sit with us and discuss solutions. To date he has not accepted my offer,” he continued.
Gress argued in his letter to Serviss that the provision to house individuals from “The Zone” or affected by Title 42 is an improper use of state monies and goes beyond the scope of the Department of Housing’s statutory authority. He also wrote the provision was “state imposed” and the city informed him that it has never operated its hotel program to serve people outside of the local community.
Gress also objects to hotel housing programs like Scottsdale’s. In July, he sent a letter to city officials first expressing his concern with the program and cited an article from the San Franciso Chronicle which reported “disastrous results” with little oversight over a similar hotel housing program. The Chronicle reported at least 166 people fatally overdosed in city-funded hotels between 2020 and 2021.
Ortega also said city officials are still interested in helping disadvantaged people from “The Zone” or affected by Title 42. Scottsdale Human Services recently reported to the council some measures the city could take which include wraparound services to incentivize specific performance by a displaced individual. These services are community-based support services that may qualify for federal funding opportunities.