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Thursday, October 21, 2021
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CrimeNew details emerge in murder of transgender woman at Project Homekey site

New details emerge in murder of transgender woman at Project Homekey site

Natalia Smut, a 24-year-old transgender woman who was killed by her boyfriend in April, had been living in an under-construction room at Milpitas’ Project Homekey site in the weeks before her death, according to new information obtained by The Beat. In other words, she had not been officially cleared by the county to live there. 

Project Homekey  –– a pandemic initiative launched last year by Governor Gavin Newsom –– aimed to assist local governments in converting hotels, motels, and vacant apartments into housing for the state’s homeless residents. In Milpitas, county officials and Jamboree Housing Corp. converted a 146-room Extended Stay America motel at 1000 Hillview Court into 132 rooms. The complex, aptly named Hillview Court, opened earlier this year. 

Previous reporting by other news organizations stated that Smut, a well-known local drag performer, had obtained a room at the Project HomeKey site through the county. Mary Jo Goelzer, the vice president of marketing and communications at Jamboree Housing Corp., however, says Smut was moved into Hillview Court by a relative who worked for the company overseeing the development at the time: FPI Management.

According to Goelzer, the employee had moved Smut “into the unit on an emergency basis as the employee was fearful that [Smut], who was involved in an abusive domestic relationship, would get hurt and had nowhere to go pending a move into another city.” The room Smut was placed in was still undergoing refurbishments and was therefore “not taking up a space meant for a Homekey resident,” she added. 

On April 23, Smut’s fears became reality when 22-year-old Elijah Segura called 9-1-1 and confessed to injuring her; she later died at a local hospital. The Milpitas Police Department described the killing as domestic violence-related. Four days later, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office charged Segura with murder.

After the final investigation, Goezler said that “FPI replaced their entire on-site team of employees, units under rehab were inspected more frequently, and the community’s visitor policy was revised.” 

Jamboree has since terminated its relationship with FPI Management; however, Goezler said Smut’s murder was not a deciding factor. 

“It just got to be a little overwhelming for everybody,” she said, noting that there were a multitude of problems, including contractors and subcontractors coming in and out of the building and residents losing or forgetting their keys.

Hyder Property Management took over Hillview Court last month after being recommended by county officials. County spokesperson Laurel Anderson and Office of Supportive Housing Director Consuelo Hernandez could not be reached for comment despite multiple attempts.

 

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Grace Hase
Grace Hase is a Bay Area-based freelance journalist. She previously worked as a reporter for Metro Silicon Valley/San Jose Inside where she covered San Jose City Hall, transportation, housing policy and the Covid-19 pandemic. Grace holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Journalism in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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