Inside One City’s Multimillion-Dollar Effort to Convert Motels into Affordable Housing 

CAL MATTERS-State-funding efforts to shelter unhoused residents in converted motels could be a game-changer for Motel Drive, an area of Fresno that city leaders say has long been overrun by drugs, human trafficking, and prostitution.  

Local city leaders say Project Homekey has been a success in Fresno, providing shelter for about 1,500 people over the past 18 months. Not only have the funds helped shelter the city’s unhoused residents, but they also provided the opportunity to invest in the transformation of Motel Drive, said Councilmember Miguel Arias in an interview with The Bee.  

“I’ve always had a plan since 2019 to clean up this whole corridor, but we’ve never had the resources,” said Arias, who in May of 2019 initiated an ordinance to require inspection of the neglected motels.  

“Then, the pandemic hit, and we found ourselves with no shelter beds,” said Arias, adding that Fresno historically only had 10 beds a year to shelter the city’s unhoused population.  

That’s when the city decided to use a majority of the $35 million in Project Homekey funds to acquire four motels along Motel Drive, a stretch of motels on Parkway Drive along Highway 99 that city leaders have described as hotbeds for prostitution, drug, and sex trafficking.  

Federal CARES Act funds have also enabled the city to acquire and convert additional motels on Motel Drive for shelter and affordable housing.  

“Project Homekey has been a saving grace for this city,” said Arias. Without Homekey, Arias said, the city “wouldn’t have made a dent,” sheltering unhoused residents during the pandemic.  

Housing advocacy groups that have long criticized the city’s sheltering efforts agree that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Project Homekey has been a success in Fresno but said the program remains too small and said local leaders need to do more to address homelessness and affordable housing in Fresno. 


(Melissa Montalvo covers childhood poverty in the central San Joaquin Valley for The Fresno Bee in partnership with CalMatters' California Divide project. She is a Report for America corps member. Montalvo, a bilingual reporter, covered the food and agriculture industries, Indigenous issues, and Mexican American culture as a freelancer, with bylines in Civil Eats, LA Taco, and more.)