San Jose’s housing department proposed three possible locations for so-called bridge housing communities—basically tiny sleeping cabins to shelter the homeless. The announcement earlier this week comes after months of intense debate between homeless advocates and homeowners who say the tiny homes would lower their property values and bring crime and blight to their neighborhoods.
The three locations are:
- A 1.33-acre in a VTA construction staging area on Mabury Road
- A 7-acre property owned by the city on Hellyer Avenue
- A 2-acre Caltrans-owned site by an overpass connecting interstates 280, 680 and 101
Until Caltrans cleared it out earlier this month, that last site housed one of the region’s biggest homeless settlements.
Helen Chapman—policy and legislative advisor for Councilman Sergio Jimenez—the sites are not necessarily ideal, but they fit the criteria housing officials were looking for. Though the locations have been identified, there are still several more hoops to jump through before construction begins.
Each site will still need to undergo an environmental review, for one thing, and the exact budget for each cluster of tiny homes still needs to be hammered out. Current estimates put at $18,000 to $20,000 per cabin.
“Cost hasn’t yet been identified,” Chapman said. “There’s a possibility that the initial cost that we laid out to the community months ago had to come down a little bit.”
The goal is to have people move into these cabins by the end of the year, according to city officials. The houses would most likely be offered to working homeless people living in their cars or rental voucher-holders who are waiting to move into permanent housing.
There isn’t much time to waste. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in 2016 that allows cities to create tiny homes for the homeless, but it sunsets in 2022. There’s a chance it could get extended, of course. But San Jose has already spent the past year planning and debating, going from a list of 100 potential tiny homes sites to just three—and is still months away from breaking ground.
Robert Aguirre, a homeless man and outspoken activist, said the vitriolic backlash to the tiny homes proposal in San Jose has been disheartening. He said there’s a sense that no one cares about the opinions of the people who would be housed there.
“They all have their pluses and minuses,” Aguirre said of the proposed locations. “But for all the different choices that have been suggested, they really don’t consider involving the homeless people in these decisions.”
In addition, he said, because the three potential locations are in relatively isolated areas there wouldn’t be as many resources available, such as public transportation.
Another issue that concerns Aguirre is the fact that the city is home to about 4,500 or so unsheltered people, but it’s estimated that only 20 to 40 homes would be built. That would house dozens of people at most.
Chapman said Councilman Jimenez has been trying to combat the public backlash to the tiny homes proposal by educating people about the need for transitional housing.
“We as an office put out as much information as possible,” Chapman said. “We’re holding our community meeting on March 1 to make sure we are educating our community about possibly what it’s going to look like, what services will be offered, what type of security will be there.”
The public will have additional chances to weigh in starting at 6pm on Feb. 22 at the Leininger Community Center. A second meeting is scheduled for 6pm on Feb. 26 at the Environmental Innovation Center. The meeting in Jimenez’s jurisdiction, District 2, will take place at 6:30pm on March 1 at the Wyndham Hotel on Silicon Valley Boulevard.