Home>Housing crisis>Gress Authors Bill Preventing Homeless Hotels in Mesa

State Representative Matt Gress at an event hosted by Arizona Talks at Greenwood Brewing in Phoenix, October 26, 2023. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Gress Authors Bill Preventing Homeless Hotels in Mesa

Outlaws local governments from allowing the conversion of hotels and motels to house the homeless

By Steve Kirwan, February 22, 2024 5:00 am

Scottsdale Rep. Matt Gress (R-4) is sponsoring controversial House Bill HB2782 that, among other things, strengthens regulations around the use of hotels and motels as homeless shelters. At the heart of the bill are increased penalties for illegal drug usage, an issue dogging many of these shelter conversion projects. Concerns voiced by Rep. Barbar Parker (R-10) over the city of Mesa’s conversion of the Grand Hotel and the early use of the Windemere Hotel as temporary housing proved true, with local citizens reporting significant increases in crime and drug activity nearby.

Scottsdale’s use of 10 rooms of the Independent 47 Hotel as a homeless shelter has fired up more concerns, prompting Gress, with support from Reps. Selina Bliss (R-1), Lupe Diaz (R-19), David Livingston (R-28), and Julie Willoughby (R-13) to strengthen and reiterate drug use and homeless funding rules. Key components of the new law include greater punishments for drug-related crimes in and around homeless facilities, including such mixed-use properties as converted hotels, a mandate for more obvious notice about mixed-use properties to ensure that hotel guests know that the property is used to house the homeless, tying funding for homeless projects to upholding anti-urban camping statues, and increased penalties for property owners/managers for failing to enforce drug mandates, and the transfer of $75M from the state’s Housing Trust Fund to be earmarked for creating new homeless shelters, to name just a few.

“There are a lot of great intentions associated with these programs, but there is a significant lack of implementation,” Gress stated on Monday. “It’s almost as if whatever San Francisco, Portland, or New York City is doing, we’re doing it in Arizona, and that’s unacceptable.”

Gress indicated that one intent of the bill is to provide temporary shelter to the homeless while helping them deal with drug and alcohol addictions.

“Which is worse? Being in the shelter or being on the streets and living under a bridge,” Gress said. “So we can talk about housing and homelessness, but I’m not going to get distracted here by the typical song and dance… I heard from providers: concentrate on housing.”

Despite the bill passing the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee, it already faces strong opposition from Arizona House Democrats, Democrat-run Cites, and homeless shelter proponents, a sign that it’s likely to fall victim to Governor Katie Hobbs’ prolific veto stamp.

Susan Cannata, a city of Phoenix lobbyist, is objecting due to the bill’s potential impact on shelter funding. She cited the bill’s “anti-camping” rules, contending that it violates recent Federal rulings that banning sleeping outdoors is unconstitutional when adequate shelter beds are unavailable.

“We don’t want to spend money on lawyers,” Cannata stated. “These resources should be better directed toward solving our homeless shelter and services problem.”

House Assistant Minority Leader Oscar De Los Santos (D-11) concurs, citing opposition by groups supporting Sexual and Domestic Violence prevention.

“This bill is a disaster that is not based on evidence-based public policy,” De Los Santos said.

Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix (D-2), also chimed in, stating that the bill “criminalizes” homelessness while failing to provide “real” solutions.

“I am really disappointed to see this great performance from the sponsor,” Schwiebert said.

Given the likely refusal of Governor Hobbs to support the bill in its current form, Rep. David Livingston (R-28) urged Gress to work towards more bipartisan support. He recommends the removal of the “mixed hotel” language, focusing instead on encouraging full hotel use for the homeless.  

“It’s risky for everyone involved… Sometimes the only way to eliminate it is to simply enact it into law,” Livingston said.

Arizona Globe previously addressed Rep. Parker’s concerns on September 28, 2023. Click here for the article.


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