UPDATE: The council voted 9-2 to build cabins for the homeless. Council members Don Rocha and Johnny Khamis opposed the plan, saying the so-called Bridge Home Communities would be too expensive. The next challenge for the city will be finding properties to place the cabins. Housing officials expect to release a list of potential sites by next month. Final approval for construction will require additional public outreach and environmental review.
After public backlash quashed plans earlier this year to build tiny cabins for the homeless in San Jose, city officials are giving it another shot. But this time, there’s a new list of potential sites farther away from schools and pot clubs.
The City Council on Tuesday will consider a new rubric to rank possible places for the so-called tiny home communities, which would house about 25 people per site. Some 37 proposed sites remain after the city ruled out dozens of others deemed too small or too far away from public transit.
To narrow the number further, housing officials suggest a scoring matrix that factors in the property’s size, location and how easy it would be to develop it. Originally, the goal was to build a cluster of tiny homes in each of the city’s 10 council districts.
Last week, city officials unveiled two designs by Gensler architectural firm for the cabins, which would range from 80 to 140 square feet. The artist renderings, which were donated to the city, showcase two aesthetically pleasing geometric designs—one called the “folding home” with storage shelves and the other “better together” with broad windows.
City officials tapped Habitat for Humanity to build the structures and the nonprofit HomeFirst to run the villages. But the project is running out of time.
The council OK’d a pilot in August to build three villages throughout the city after a state law by termed-out Assemblywoman Nora Campos relaxed zoning laws to allow the tiny home construction.
Other cities, namely Oakland and Fresno, have taken advantage of the law to build the diminutive shelters. Meanwhile, several cities in Oregon, including Portland and Eugene, are years into their tiny homes experiment.
In San Jose, the idea has been stymied by community fears about public safety and protecting their own property values. Over the course of several public hearings earlier this year, tiny homes opponents made it clear that they thought of unsheltered residents as an underclass best kept out of sight.
But even for city leaders sympathetic to the plight of the local homeless population—one of the largest concentrations of unsheltered people of any U.S. city—the cost of tiny homes is problematic.
Twenty cabins on a half-acre would run up a tab of $90,550 per unit; 40 cabins on an acre would cost an estimated $73,125 per. Add security, meals and transportation adds another $10,000 to $17,000 per tiny home—all according to city projections.
Council members Don Rocha and Johnny Khamis—improbably allies, as the former tends toward progressive policies and the latter leans libertarian—believe the millions of dollars pegged for the sleeping cabins would be better spent on rent for existing housing.
In a shared memo, Rocha and Khamis direct staff to use the $2.3 million in one-time funding set aside for tiny homes to rapid re-housing instead. They also suggest accelerating other homeless outreach initiatives, such as the safe parking program.
Though Rocha initially supported tiny homes, he said the window for building them makes the project impractical. The Campos law that streamlines tiny homes construction, AB 2176, sunsets on Jan. 1, 2022. If building the cabins takes up to a year, as projected, that leaves the city a narrow window before the law expires.
“Placing people in existing housing would have the advantage of integrating them into existing neighborhoods and dispersing them throughout the city instead of looking for sites that are separated from existing residential areas,” Rocha and Khamis noted in their memo. “It would also have the advantage of allowing them to live in a standard housing unit that includes kitchen and restroom facilities within the unit, instead of a more primitive structure.”
However, the Housing Department pointed out that the tight rental market—which has a 4.7 percent vacancy rate—would make the rapid re-housing proposal a challenge.
Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and councilors Chappie Jones and Sylvia Arenas agree that the city needs short-term shelters—known as “bridge housing”—until additional housing is available.
“We acknowledge the enormity of the problem, that there is no ‘silver-bullet’ strategy, and that staff resources are not endless,” they wrote in a shared memo. “Council action on bridge housing communities today, does not foreclose future consideration of sanctioned encampments or other interim solutions.”
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for December 12, 2017:
- The San Jose Improv is due for another five-year lease extension, this time with a 5 percent rent hike to $6,000 a month. The comedy club, which is located in the historic Jose Theater on South Second Street, is the oldest theater in downtown, according to the city. San Jose bought the building through its now-defunct Redevelopment Agency in 2000 and leased it out to the Improv two years later. The proposed lease renewal up for consideration this week would allow the Improv, which recently canned a longtime manager, to commence with upward of $500,000 in upgrades, which the company would only do with a multi-year agreement.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260