Five small housing units designated for homeless individuals moved one step closer to becoming a reality Tuesday night.

The Lodi City Council voted 4-0 to adopt a resolution approving a contract with Michael Baker International to perform an environmental analysis and clearing of two sites proposed for the Homeless Emergency Aid Program project.

The service agreement will not exceed more than $41,100, according to Tuesday’s agenda.

Lodi City Manager Steve Schwabauer said Tuesday’s action does not approve construction of the homes, but approves a process to determine if the two sites eyed for the project are appropriate.

One of the sites is 301 E. Lodi Ave., which is the section of Maple Square that is adjacent to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

The second site is located at 2 West Lodi Ave., and is a vacant lot at the corner of Washington Street, across the road from the Smart & Final grocery store.

“We’re not selecting one (of the sites) tonight,” Schwabauer said. “We are just going to make sure they work from an environmental perspective.”

Once the analysis is done, which could take as much as six weeks, the Lodi Committee on Homelessness will determine which of the two properties will become the site of five permanent supportive housing units for homeless individuals or families.

The units, which will be about 450 square feet in size, will also be homes for those at risk of becoming homeless. Tenant referrals will be received from local organizations such as the Salvation Army, Lodi House and Women’s Center, as well as the Housing Authority of the County of San Joaquin.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $1.87 million, with $1.25 million earmarked for site improvement and construction. Another $400,000 was used for site acquisition.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, prior to the HEAP discussion, resident Amanda Lee raised concern that the price tag of the project had increased from $1 million to nearly $2 million.

She also said the city should also be working on affordable housing projects that would provide homes for the city’s unsheltered population that are not referred to the “tiny home” project.

“I think this is a step in the right direction, but it won’t do enough,” she said. “The homeless population is increasing year after year. We should be looking at what other cities are doing.  Orange County is currently working on rezoning certain areas to tackle their homeless epidemic.”

Last month, Orange County adopted a new policy that allows law enforcement to arrest the homeless in certain places and create two zones to enforce nuisance laws, according to CBS Los Angeles. 

Transients can be arrested immediately in one of the zones, and the other zone would require law enforcement to first try to send social workers out to help get the homeless into shelters. If the homeless refuse those services, they could be taken to jail, CBS Los Angeles reported.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office last month said it would not prosecute homeless individuals if they were not arrested for committing a crime. In addition, the District Attorney’s Office said being homeless is not a criminal offense.

The city of Lodi received $1.25 million in HEAP funding last December, and the tiny home complex has been considered by the Committee on Homelessness for at least two years. Originally, the committee had eyed 19 properties for the tiny home project.

According to Tuesday’s agenda, HEAP funds must be spent by June 30, 2021, and half of those must be contractually obligated by Jan. 1, 2020.

“We’ve been going through this process for the last two years,” councilman Alan Nakanishi said Tuesday before making a motion to approve the resolution. “It’s been vetted by all the organizations involved. I can’t see why we don’t just move this along.”

Councilwoman Joanne Mounce was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

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