Despite being one of the most expansive big cities in the nation, San Jose can’t figure out where to place a few clusters of cottages to house the homeless.
The city spends up to $2 million a year dismantling unsanctioned camps, which spring up endlessly throughout the city as the number of homeless people grows and their death toll rises. But plans to build enough bungalows for 250 people throughout San Jose were dramatically scaled down after vehement public backlash. In a 9-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday approved a so-called tiny home pilot to construct up to three villages at yet-to-be determined sites.
Council members Don Rocha and Johnny Khamis, who wanted the villages placed on private instead of city-owned land, cast the dissenting votes.
The winning motion merged elements of Rocha’s with Mayor Sam Liccardo’s, which he co-authored with Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and council members Sylvia Arenas and Raul Peralez. Under the proposal, the city will build up to three tiny home communities to collectively house about 75 people. Councilors Dev Davis and Sergio Jimenez wanted to nix the city-owned sites, too, but ultimately voted in favor of the mayor’s motion.
Each cottage would be about 70 square feet, according to the proposal, and each site would house about 25 of them. All the villages would come with hired security and case managers and cost $1.4 million on the high end, according to housing staff.
Councilors also decided to ask Santa Clara County, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and other local government agencies to help find land for the tiny homes. They set a two-month deadline to find new locations and draft an improved outreach plan.
The council was supposed to go into this week’s meeting with at least one site suggestion from each of the city’s 10 council districts. But only Khamis and council member Chappie Jones came through. Meanwhile, the city’s housing staff whittled a list of 99 possible plots down to three. And, according to a memo from Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand, that number nearly went down to two.
The vote came after hours of public testimony, in which residents cited fears about the criminality of the unsheltered and how tiny homes would devalue their properties.
A real estate agent said he wants to help the homeless, but not if it affects property values. A self-described sociologist deemed the Thousand Oaks neighborhood in Cambrian Park ill-suited for the homeless because it’s “an aspirational community” where they would be willfully ostracized.
Another speaker suggested that the homeless advocacy nonprofits backing the tiny homes idea are really just lobbyists with ulterior motives. A woman from Cambrian Park said she knows for certain that “the bulk of people” with no homes are drug addicts who don’t want help.
Desmond Carrera said he lived in his car for a time during college and understands the plight of the homeless. But he recently bought a home with his wife in District 2 and wants to protect his investment.
“I don’t want to raise my family around homeless encampments,” he said. “I just don’t.”
Steve Stroup, an Army veteran and longtime homeowner, called the cottage communities “social engineering.”
“I am just amazed at how this project is going forward when so many citiens don’t want it,” he added.
Pilar Lozano, of affordable housing nonprofit Silicon Valley at Home (SV@Home), urged the city to remember the environmental and health costs from a lack of affordable housing and stressed the importance of integrating them into neighborhoods.
“Each community must shoulder its fair share of the housing need,” she said, adding that the city “must reject and take a stand against NIMBYism.”
The council also voted on Tuesday to have nonprofit Destination: Home, which provides services and shelter for the un-housed, to help create a citywide task force dedicated to homeless issues.
This article has been updated.