After months of debate over how to balance the interests of landowners and tenants, San Jose officials will decide whether to ban mobile home park conversions.
The emergency ordinance on Tuesday’s City Council agenda would freeze conversions for up to six months, giving city staff more time to come up with a permanent policy. As an urgency ruling, the ordinance would require a supermajority vote (four-fifths).
City officials called for the freeze weeks after the owners of Winchester Mobile Home Park announced plans to sell by the year’s end. Closure would displace more than 100 mostly elderly, fixed-income seniors.
San Jose claims more mobile homes than any other city in California. More than 35,000 predominantly low-income people live in 11,000 units in 59 parks. While the city passed a mobile home conversion ordinance in 1986, the policy had never been tested until now.
Silicon Valley’s real estate market has doubled, even tripled land values. Property owners throughout the region have been courting developers willing to pay top dollar to convert mobile home communities into market-rate housing. But with average rents topping $2,500 a month, mobile homes have become the only affordable place to live for tens of thousands of people in the South Bay.
San Jose’s proposed urgency ruling comes as the impending closure of Palo Alto’s only mobile home park threatens to displace 400 low-income residents. After a controversial two-and-a-half-year review, the city’s elected leaders approved the landlord’s application to close it.
While Santa Clara County and nonprofits have offered to pool money to buy the 4.5-acre park located a stone’s throw from multimillion-dollar homes, it’s unclear whether it will be enough to compete with developers. Local real estate agents say the land could be worth as much as $55 million.
San Jose’s Winchester Ranch residents fear a similar outcome. For the past couple of years, the park’s residents have lobbied the city to bolster its existing mobile home conversion ordinance with stronger tenant protections.
Last year, city officials proposed an emergency moratorium in a subcommittee, but it never advanced it to the council because it would have been a challenge to secure a four-fifths vote to pass it. Then-Mayor Chuck Reed suggested updating the city’s general plan—its blueprint for future growth—with a provision to protect mobile home parks. But that proposal also fizzled out.
This past spring—under a new mayor and council—the Rules and Open Government Committee revived the conversation.
City Attorney Rick Doyle said that to opt for an urgency ordinance, the city would have to make a case that approving mobile home park conversions constitute a public threat. City staff raised several points to support that claim, including the risk of displacing people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford living in San Jose.
“Given the high cost of rents and low vacancies in the region, it is possible that the closure of a mobile home park may result in some residents, including senior citizens, becoming homeless,” San Jose’s interim Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand stated in a memo to the council.
Of the 4,460 residential building permits San Jose processed in 2014, only 12 percent were for affordable housing. Virtually all income-restricted housing stock in San Jose has years-long waiting lists. Some 22,000 people are in line for the county’s Section 8 vouchers, which hasn’t added any new names since 2006.
Meanwhile, more than 22,000 low-income renters in San Jose spent half of their income on rent in 2010, according to the city. Options to relocate are extremely limited—San Jose’s rental market has a 4 percent vacancy rate.
“This indicates a continuing gap between the demand and supply of income-restricted affordable housing,” Morales-Ferrand’s memo said.
Councilman Johnny Khamis also directed city staff to include a "stay in business" alternative for park owners when it comes back to the council with a draft of a long-term conversion ordinance in early 2016.
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 25, 2015:
- The council will vote on a contract to restore police pay. Per the contract ratified by the Police Officers’ Association, officers will get an 8 percent raise and a one-time 5 percent bonus for sticking with the city.
- In a related proposal, the council will vote on a settlement to replace Measure B pension reforms with a negotiated deal agreed upon by the police and fire unions.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260