John Dowling knows he’d be hard-pressed to find another 1,440-square-foot home for $800 a month in San Jose, where the median home price is $612,250. The 60-year-old retired electrical engineer moved 30 years ago into his pre-fab home at Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park. He expected to live there for the rest of his life.
But developer Pulte Homes has been eyeing the park, adjacent to Santana Row and the Valley Fair mall in San Jose, which may mean residents like Dowling face the prospect of being forced to move.
“We’re just preparing for what could be the next step,” Dowling says. “But yeah, I do feel insecure about my future.”
Cali-Arioto Properties owns the land. Like a lot of mobile home park owners in the region, the family proprietor is exploring the option of selling the lot, which houses more than 145 mostly low-income seniors and disabled residents. Real estate prices are going up and the park lies in a part of the city pegged for future mixed-use development under the city’s General Plan.
Fifty-seven of San Jose’s 58 mobile home parks lie within a mile of proposed urban villages, according to Wayne Chen, San Jose’s director of policy planning. Eleven sit adjacent to urban village boundaries, making the properties attractive to developers, like Pulte.
Sale of Winchester Ranch is tentative. And there’s been no official move in the city to rezone the parcel, where Sarah Winchester once grew her orchard, from agricultural to residential. But the park’s homeowners association started sending people to city meetings to show their faces and try to convince the city not to include the land within the boundary for an urban village development.
Calls to the property owners weren’t immediately returned.
Should the property sell and Pulte replaces the manufactured homes with market-rate condos, it would further contribute to the city’s shortage of affordable housing. It’s unclear, too, whether the Winchester Ranch residents would be compensated to leave their homes. That will likely be decided on a case-by-case basis, Chen says.
“That is one of our stronger markets,” he adds. “It’s a challenge because it does raise the question of how to do create diverse housing options for these portions of the population?”
A regional housing assessment requires San Jose to build 19,000 affordable homes between 2007 and 2014. Because the state decimated Redevelopment Agencies (RDA), the city has fallen behind, reaching only 20 percent of that goal to date, Chen says.
“We’ve done a good job on market-rate housing, but we’ve fallen behind on affordable housing because we’ve lost some of our tools,” Chen says, “especially redevelopment.”
Palo Alto is going through a similar struggle, trying to balance the needs of a growing demand for market-rate housing with the rights of low-income residents, Chen notes. Owners of Palo Alto’s last remaining mobile home park are about to sell to developers, too, displacing more than 400 residents.
The Winchester sale brings up the larger policy and philosophical issue of private property rights versus the public good, mobile home park residents point out. City planners say we’ll see a lot more cases like this in the future.
Property owners and anyone interested in weighing in on the issue can attend the Nov. 12 City Council meeting, when city leaders plan to talk about future housing needs.