Hillcrest Motel closing; tenants seek new homes

·4 min read

Dec. 4—Approximately 30 long-term tenants of the Hillcrest Motel, and several others who needed the motel for emergency housing, have been asked to move out as the Moscow establishment is closing its doors Dec. 31.

Hillcrest Motel owners George and Roberta Branson are retiring after 27 years and notified tenants at the end of September they needed to vacate the building.

"The motel has provided housing for many people over the years and to this day, many still reside here," a Hillcrest Motel news release said. "The decision to end the business was not made lightly. We understand and are sorry for the inconvenience to our long-term residents."

The news release said the Hillcrest Motel has been in operation for 64 years.

George Branson told the Daily News he felt that the late September notice gave his tenants a "reasonable amount of time" to plan accordingly.

George Branson said they made efforts to help those being evicted including offering housing suggestions, communicating with their new landlords, providing a moving truck and being more flexible with their rent.

In a Nov. 23 email to the Daily News, Fortify Holdings LLC President Ziad Elsahili said his company, headquartered in Beaverton, Ore., was in talks with motel ownership but had not purchased it. Branson said Friday the motel still has not made a deal with any purchaser.

Moscow nonprofit Sojourners' Alliance has been working with the motel for years to provide people housing. Sojourners' director Cliff McAleer said that in addition to the 30 long-term tenants, eight people were recently using the motel for emergency shelter.

He said Sojourners' worked with people who were eligible for emergency housing to book them a room for a week at a time at the motel while they tried to find a more stable housing arrangement.

"This can take a couple of weeks to a couple of months depending on each individual's circumstances," McAleer wrote in an email. "This is paid for by a (Department of Housing and Urban Development) Emergency Shelter Grant that we receive through (the Idaho Housing and Finance Association). We also have funds to pay for rental arrears or first month's rent and deposit through this same grant."

Sojourners' Alliance is looking for other housing opportunities in Moscow and Lewiston to help the evicted tenants find a place to live.

McAleer said he has worked with Studio 1 Hotel in Moscow to make 10 rooms available. Sojourners' is also in the process of adding six beds to its men's transitional unit on North Van Buren Street. The unit currently has eight beds and the women's unit has three beds.

McAleer said some tenants have emergency housing vouchers from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association that can be used to pay for a new residence.

Hillcrest Motel has provided housing to those who needed it for decades. University of Idaho sociology professor Leontina Hormel said that the motel was a vital resource in housing residents of Syringa Mobile Home Park when that property east of Moscow closed in 2018.

Hormel said those in need of housing are facing a number of obstacles, such as the time of year, the challenges of finding a place to live if they have mental or substance abuse issues, and the difficulty of asking for help.

"It's hard for people to speak up about these sorts of things," she said.

The Idaho Department of Correction also worked with Hillcrest Motel to provide housing for people on probation and parole. Jeff Ray, spokesman for IDOC, said there are six people currently living at the motel in that situation.

In an email to the Daily News, David Remington wrote that he started living at the motel in December 2012 following his sentencing in Kootenai County to four years probation as a nonviolent sex offender.

Remington said he has felt "a real sense of safety and community fostered by the Bransons." He called the Branson family "Good Samaritans" that have filled a gap in community housing services.

While grateful to the Hillcrest Motel, he now faces the challenge of finding a new home.

"In the present situation, it has been difficult to find a decent place to live since many property managers simply refuse to rent to convicted felons, especially sex offenders," he said.

Remington said that he has been retired since 2002 and does not need to find employment, which he said is another issue convicted felons have to deal with.

Lynn Miller moved to Hillcrest Motel from Saint Maries last year. Miller said she liked that it offered monthly rentals in her price range and that it was dog-friendly.

She praised the Bransons for being friendly and courteous to her. She said that as a single woman, she felt safe at the motel.

"They made me feel comfortable just by their niceness," she said.

Miller said it was a frustrating process to find another place to rent in Moscow, especially with University of Idaho students in session. She could not find anything in her price range so she decided to move to a property in Lewiston. She said Sojourners' Alliance gave her a list with information about other properties.

Kuipers can be reached at akuipers@dnews.com.

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