San Jose City Council Looks at Ways to Salvage Tiny Homes Plan

San Jose’s plan to build tiny cottages for the homeless ran into vocal opposition, with people at one meeting literally chanting “build a wall” to block out the impoverished.

Weak public outreach by City Hall and backlash from residents resulted in the number of potential sites shrinking from 99 to four, then three and now, potentially, two.

San Jose’s elected leaders now have to figure out how to salvage the project, which originally aimed to house 250 people at 10 sites—25 people in each City Council district. The council on Tuesday will consider ideas on how to move the plan forward.

In a memo released Friday, Mayor Sam Liccardo recommends meeting the original goal of building 10 villages, but to start with a few to model the concept. Gensler, a world-renowned architectural firm, offered to donate its design expertise.

“Residents justifiably have many concerns about how a homeless housing project could impact their neighborhood,” Mayor Liccardo wrote in a proposal co-signed by Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and council members Raul Peralez, Chappie Jones and Sylvia Arenas. “Yet more than 4,000 homeless residents already live in our neighborhoods—in our streets, parks, and creeks. Living outside subjects each of those individuals—and the entire community— to extraordinary risk of harm. Our neighborhoods will be far safer, cleaner, and more livable if these same individuals have housing.”

Liccardo wants city staff to come up with a list of sites within two months and to demonstrate a “proof of concept” for the so-called “bridge housing communities.” Seattle started with just 28 tiny homes on one site managed by a nonprofit, he pointed out. After proving success for two years, more sites were built.

Meanwhile, the mayor added, City Hall needs to come up with a better way to engage the public about homeless housing. Residents need to have a chance to weigh in, he said, but they also need to understand more about the needs underlying these projects.

Plus, last year’s voter approval of hundreds of millions of dollars in affordable housing funds for the homeless—on the ballot as Measure A—means the public has to accept the fact that more low-income, transitional and supportive housing needs to get built.

“This merely marks the beginning of many difficult conversations with our community about how and where we can house our neediest residents in the city of San Jose,” Liccardo wrote. “Our failure to successfully engage our community now will mean that our voters’ approval of $700 million of Measure A funding for homeless housing will go for naught.”

A second memo from council members Sergio Jimenez and Johnny Khamis suggests eliminating all city-owned land from the list and placing a pilot tiny homes village on a single privately owned site away from residential neighborhoods. They also propose forming a citywide task force on homelessness—much like the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force—to bring together a broad coalition of stakeholders to tackle the issue for years to come.

“Our homeless population is vast and diverse, as are its needs,” Jimenez and Khamis wrote. “There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to this problem. The root causes of homelessness are decades in the making, from the defunding of mental health institutions by the federal government to the ever-rising cost of living in the Bay Area. Because the problem we face is immense and complicated, we should be innovative and resilient in our approach.”

Tiny homes are one of many ways Silicon Valley is trying to deal with its growing population of homeless residents. The most recent census put the number of homeless people in San Jose on a given night at 4,350. Seventy-four percent of them are unsheltered and 28 percent have been homeless for years. The state law that sanctions tiny home villages sunsets in five years, which means local governments must act quickly to take advantage of the option.

In the past five years, San Jose’s housing division has managed to fund only 500 permanent supportive housing units. Meanwhile, the number of unsheltered children, families and young adults continues to rise. As does the homeless death toll, which saw a 164 percent increase from 2011 to 2016, according to a recently released report by Santa Clara County’s Medical Examiner-Coroner.

But generations of development segregated by race and class as well as tax policy that privileges established property owners has made the creation of integrated low-income housing an uphill battle.

Phil Mastrocola, co-founder of Winter Faith Collaborative, a collective of dozens of religious congregations that help the homeless, said the outrage expressed at public meetings about tiny homes stemmed not only from concerns about property values and crime, but also from a lack of understanding about what the project entails.

“It’s important to engage the community from the very beginning,” Mastrocola said. “The attitude in this case was for people to get up and yell. Nobody was asking questions.”

But he’s hopeful that the city will be able to advance the plan, especially if it involves dedicating a task force to the cause.

“It’s a hugely complex problem, and there are no easy answers,” he said. “But I think we can do this.”

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 29, 2017:

  • The city expects to pay $700,000 to settle a police brutality lawsuit. The federal case stems from the 2015 DUI arrest of Eliel Paulino, who was pummeled with baton strikes by San Jose police as he laid face down on the ground after a fall. A bystander caught the beating on video and a federal jury ruled in favor of Paulino after a trial this past July. Of that settlement, $450,000 will go to Paulino and the rest to attorney fees.
  • San Jose plans to renew its declaration of a local emergency because it’s still dealing with the fallout from the February floods, which left hundreds of people displaced. The emergency declaration allows the city to qualify for state and federal funds and provide continued assistance to the households that haven’t yet recovered from the disaster.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


    • They are already here, and always will be because the government doesn’t take care of its veterans. The mentally ill aren’t properly cared for, and living in the valley is too expensive. Also, the weather here invites those who live outdoors. People don’t want to be homeless. Other cities have shown significant savings come with housing the homeless. If you have no empathy, maybe the savings to your pocketbook will be a motivator.

      • Mr Noel, The issue is not empathy, the issue is habitability. These tiny houses are not houses and are not owned and managed by professional managers. The best place for any person, currently housed or not, is in a house with electric, water, sewage, heat, and garbage services that has staff to address maintenance and other issues that come up.

        The city council, then First Lady Obama, and HUD made it a priority to house vets, and San Jose made some progress because they worked with property owners. The only people that can address this problem are landlords. If you alleviates the homelessness problem in San Jose then tell your city councilmember to stop villifying landlords and partner with them.

  1. Unfortunately, the community doesn’t talk to or get to know these homeless folks. I spent the entire summer and winter, last year, talking to numerous homeless people. Many of them are Vets, and people like you and I who can’t afford the rents here. Most are working poor, are not drug addicts, mentally ill, or criminals. I got the City and County to send out people to help these poor folks. They did an incredible job, and many got much needed resources and even homes.

    Yes, a handful are drug addicts and mentally ill, but in my experience, they are in the minority. I support the efforts of our Mayor and Council to house these folks because studies show that housing them keeps our community safer.

    • Kathleen, while many among the homeless are, yes, veterans or working poor, my professional experience has been that a substantial majority are homeless because of their mental illness or problems with addiction. I worked for nearly three years in the downtown area and got to see firsthand what it’s like for the mentally ill or addicted both on the street and in board and care homes of various sorts. Put simply, I wouldn’t wish the board and care homes on even those family members I have whom I truly despise (and there are several of those). I’ve been inside enough of them to see that their living conditions are often only marginally better than if they lived ‘on the street’. In fact, many of them wander off and DO live on the street for short periods of time, until they are picked up and returned to their ‘board and care homes’. The current infrastructure set in place to govern and monitor board and care homes is woefully inadequate and/or woefully inept. Too many people living there receive a standard of care that I would call reprehensible, bordering on criminal – or at least tortious – and certainly appalling.

      Then, there’s the very legitimate question of what the care and maintenance of these ‘tiny homes’ would look like. For anyone who might have a question about how these ‘tiny homes would’ affect their neighborhoods and quality of life, they should go and look at the encampments near freeway offramps and overpasses, the encampment underneath Capitol Expressway where it passes over Monterey, and various other locations. They’re disaster areas. And it’s pretty obvious that they’re conspicuous contributors to the trash and litter problem that plagues San Jose.

      Why should we think that people housed in tiny homes would maintain such a standard of care that the areas around their tiny homes would NOT end up looking like your typical homeless encampment – especially if they are housing addicts and the mentally ill.

      Then, too, there is the question of where the line is drawn when it comes to providing services and utilities for these newly housed homeless? If there are no electricity, water or sewer services connected to these homes, then you’re inevitably going to have a situation where people are urinating and defecating in public, as already occurs, and where they are either bringing in water in containers – much of which will end up as litter in the neighborhood – are they are stealing the water from homeowners, using their water bibs in their front yards. But then people will as why they shouldn’t have these tiny homes connected to utility services using tax dollars which also pay for the costs of those services.

      For the most part, people live with their neighbors with minimal impact on their neighbors’ lifestyles. Yes, there are some people who are not good neighbors, but they are typically a very small minority. This idea of putting tiny homes in pre-existing neighborhoods virtually guarantees that these neighborhoods will have more ‘bad neighbors introduced/intruding into their lives – trash, human waste, criminal activity and behavior problems. It’s also going to adversely affect children – especially once homeless sex registrants start moving in. And, yes, I know for a fact that there are a lot of homeless sex registrants. And, no, putting people in ‘tiny homes’ is not going to reduce the level of criminality that occurs within the homeless population; it’s only going to transfer it.

      Bottom line: taxpayers pay through the nose in the form of their tax dollars for the government to manage this problem. They pay dearly for it. California’s taxes are among the highest of all 50 states. And local taxes only exacerbate that problem. The systems set in place are ineffective, inadequate inefficient and expensive – nearly to the point of malfeasance. If there was a plan to deal with the homeless problem in a way that did not adversely affect taxpayers in terms of expended money or introducing new avenues for blight, I’d be in favor of that so long as that plan represented an efficient use of tax dollars. But I’ve seen enough of valley politics and California politicians to know that there’s zero chance of ‘tiny homes’ making life better for everyone. We used to have a more efficient system in place: it was called Agnews development center. After it was closed, you could tell who the displaced mentally ill were: they were the ones clustering in small groups exhibiting (for lack of a better word) herding behaviours, or engaging in disruptive – and for the average Joe/Jane, often threatening/scary – behaviours. And yes, the shuttering of Agnews is a direct cause for much of the homeless problems taxpayers currently suffer.

  2. “There is also a constitutional right to live together as a family,649 and this right is not limited to the nuclear family. Thus, a neighborhood which is zoned for single family occupancy, and which defines “family” so as to prevent a grandmother from caring for two grandchildren of different children, was found to violate the due process clause.650 And the concept of “family” may extend beyond the biological relationship to the situation of foster families, although the Court has acknowledged that such a claim raises complex and novel questions, and that the liberty interests may be limited.6″

    One of the ideas that I’ve been bouncing around in my head is to have a couple homeless folks come crash in the backyard. It would seriously mess with the tight wads in my neighborhood, it’s not against the rules to have guests come over, and it would be interesting position to see who if anyone would push back.

    I’ve been getting to know some of the homeless in San Jose and started to recognize who is trustworthy and who is not.

    Personally, besides all the social justice stuff, the look on some old yuppies face when they see an absolute freakshow rolling down the fancy street with a shopping cart and pants halfway down would be totally worth it.

    Sadly, probably too many practical downsides to actullay do this so probably just going post about it in the comments.

    • I encourage you to follow through with your idea of spiting your neighbors by letting some homeless people live on your property. Be sure to keep a supply of plastic bags so you can pick up after them or better yet give them the key to your house so they can let themselves in to use the bathroom when you’re not home.
      But I totally get how you feel. You getting a kick out of watching the reactions of your despised, uptight “yuppie” neighbors is a lot like the ongoing enjoyment I’ve been getting watching the helplessly frustrated Left angrily blubbering and flailing about ever since November. It should continue to provide good entertainment for at least the next 3 years and probably more as long as our progressive politicians continue provoking us.
      So go for it Associates. It’s worth it!

      • People own pets? What’s the difference? It’s funny to me that adults are willing to pick up after dogs and leave messes for other people (I love seeing the please don’t have your dog piss on my lawn).

        Totally not going to do it for the reason that you mention, but see I have some background in managing street poeple as my profession so I’m not so worried.

        Today, at the Safeway this morning, a homeless bum smelling homeless with a huge cart of smack rolled into the fancy grocery store. The look of horror on the yoga points and iphone crowd was worth it.

        Leave us lefties alone! The Trump smackdown was tough for us.

        • Will you at least volunteer for the Adopt-A-Slum program when the City fails to uphold it’s responsibility to effectively manage the shantytowns they’re so eager to inflict on us?

          • I did this for my brithday party (I’m an odd duck). Met this meth addict who begs and her dumpster diver boyfriend. I do a three day program.

            Day 1 – I crash with you see what the deal is Day 2 – I move out ot the nicer wing of the hotel, they are still in a decent but certainely not nice part of the hotel. If they can handle not bringing other drug addicts into the room or dealing out of the room they can have Day 3 Day 3 – is hopefully a free and clear day where they realize how much better that life is than meth & crazy.

            No one has gotten to Day 3. It worked out for me because I learn a ton about the streets of the city and try to rebalance my karmic ledger (which needs it for sure).

          • > to effectively manage the shantytowns


            You old fossilized curmudgeon. You sound like something out of Charles Dickens.

            This is the twenty-first century and Silicon Valley. They’re called “micro slums”.

  3. Sam Liccardo, Sergio Jiminez…when I ran companies and we faced a problem…and how to resolve…first…I always to Know where you came from…San Jose never had a homeless problem…Liccardo, Jiminez elected…soon…a homeless problem…try to remember San Jose before your administration…we did just fine…crime…best lack of crime in the country…WHAT HAPPENED SAM ? ….sometimes Sam, Sergio…looking at the man in the mirror is the best place to start…re-election is right around the corner…to fix a problem first…understand who made the problem…priorities have been misplaced Sam, Sergio

  4. OFFICERANNONYMOUS–I totally agree with everything you have said. I have seen the disasterous, health hazardous, disease breeding encampments. What these tiny homes are inviting will be the gathering of homeless from here, there and everywhere. It isn’t fair to any neighborhood. There WILL be the mentally ill, the criminals, including sex offenders, and drug addicts. They have a tendency to walk up and down the streets, aimlessly. Sometimes they harass or beg you for money. I have seen a couple in my neighborhood where they beg for money during the day and I actually saw one coming out of the liquor store with his bottle after his “shift” was over, one evening. Sam is saying that they live among us, already. That is true, Sam…but they aren’t concentrated. You see one here and there and not every day, except for downtown. You put these tiny homes in a neighborhood then the neighbors have to deal with the concentration/accumulation and all of the ills that it brings with it. You all need to find another way. Neighbors are not going to want to have to wade through feces and urine smelling sidewalks to be able to walk their dogs. Parents are not going to be comfortable with their children being able to enjoy the outdoors, unsupervised…so there goes their freedom. You can’t deny that they have mental, criminal and addictive issues. Anyone saying they aren’t a problem and that we don’t understand homelessness should be a good supporter for them and take one to live in their home. Sam, how big is your house? Do you have a spare bedroom?

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