San Jose may explore the idea of building “micro-housing”—tiny, 150-square-foot cottages—to house the homeless.
City Council members and mayoral contenders Sam Liccardo and Rose Herrera submitted a joint memo to this week’s Rules and Open Government Committee that asks the city to study the feasibility of constructing “micro-pods.” The units, which would run about $5,000 a piece, could go on under-used public land or in empty warehouses as a transitional housing option for homeless people.
“In a city of very scarce public resources, and a challenge as daunting as homelessness, we must continue to press to be more resourceful, more creative, and more innovative with our public dollars,” the memo states. “Micro-housing may serve as a critical option for doing so.”
If approved by the Rules Committee this week, the proposal would direct the city to examine housing codes, look for funding sources, assess zoning and permitting issues and address the challenges of managing “micro-villages.”
The concept of small-scale housing is nothing new, Liccardo notes. A city in Wisconsin has enlisted help from high schools and vocational academies to build $3,000-a-piece micro-cottages. A February New York Times article profiled residents of a micro-village in Olympia, Wash., where they share a kitchen and showers and practice self-governance similar to a homeowners association.
Tiny homes might make sense for a city as pricey as San Jose, where the housing market has driven up cost to the point that a person needs to make more than $30 an hour to afford a modest apartment. Even subsidized “affordable” housing can be far too expensive for the chronically homeless.
Though the number of homeless people declined nationally, it jumped in Santa Clara County, making the region home to one of the largest populations of unsheltered residents in the U.S. As of the latest point-in-time census, more than 7,600 homeless people live in Silicon Valley.
"We know that the long-term solution is more affordable housing, along with essential supportive services," City Manager Ed Shikada, Santa Clara County Executive Jeff Smith and Santa Clara Valley Water District Director Beau Goldie write in a Mercury News op-ed out last week. "With the high cost of housing in the Silicon Valley, the supply of housing to meet this need simply does not exist today, and it will take active leadership, strong will and more resources to create it for tomorrow."
Ray Bramson, the city’s homeless outreach coordinator, says micro-homes could definitely become a viable option.
“Micro-housing is definitely an interesting concept,” he tells San Jose Inside. “We’re certainly excited to explore it. It’s a fascinating possibility and hasn’t really been done in an urban area like this.”
Of course, there’s a lot to study. He has to think about zoning requirements, funding, density, infrastructure and locating the development near public transit and social services, among other things.
“What’s good is that there’s already a lot of good research out there,” he says. “We could borrow from that and use that with research from our housing department to find out how it would be feasible here. We’re grateful for the opportunity to look into this.”
San Jose has adopted several approaches to reduce the local homeless population. It launched a plan this spring to allow homeless people with housing vouchers to stay in under-used hotels and motels. And through a coordinated effort with nonprofits and the county, the city has helped find shelter for 670 chronically homeless residents in the past two years.
“The momentum that is being felt towards addressing homelessness and housing needs has pushed us forward, however, we still need more tools in our toolbox,” Liccardo notes.
Jennifer Loving, head of housing nonprofit Destination: Home, agrees that micro-homes are one part of a multi-pronged solution.
"I think that Sam's point is that we need to look at a bunch of different housing options," she says.
- Councilwoman Herrera says thanks, but no thanks to the county’s proposal to help the San Jose Police Department cope with understaffing by contracting out sheriff’s deputies. Before extending an offer to assist, how about enforcing the law at Valley Transportation Authority sites, Herrera suggests in this Rules memo. An agreement between the county and the city requires sheriff’s deputies to police VTA sites until 11pm, after which time San Jose police take over. She says the VTA stops are magnets for prostitution, drug deals and vandalism and that the county should get a handle on its own jurisdiction before extending a hand to the city. “While I appreciate the county’s offer, I believe that the first step the county should take is to secure its own property, especially the VTA sites,” she says.
- David Wall writes in about a near-death experience, when he collapsed from dangerously low blood sugar in his home on Easter Sunday. “I could not move my limbs nor could I speak, yet I had mental clarity,” he recounts. “I thought I was having a stroke. My wife, aroused at the seismic event of my fall (due to my tonnage), came to my aid. I still could not move my limbs or speak.” He proceeds to profusely thank the paramedics and firefighters who rushed to his aid. “This Easter Sunday, God sent San Jose Fire Department Engine Company 1C to ‘resurrect’ me from becoming ‘dead’ —a variation of the salvation saga from a sinner’s point of view.”
- An ex-smoker says the city should re-think its ban on electronic cigarettes. “While I support bans on sales to minors, I oppose banning e-cigarette use where smoking is prohibited,” writes Andrew Makuch. “Switching to e-cigarettes has changed my life for the better. Smoking bans are ostensibly enacted to protect the public from the harm of secondhand smoke, but e-cigarettes have not been found to pose a risk to bystanders.”
- The city wants to support a proposed state bill that would tack on a $35 fee for traffic violations that occur near schools or near school buses.
WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meets
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260