San Jose leaders this week kicked off construction on the latest effort to curb the city’s crushing homelessness problem as officials grapple with a new report calling for the region to double its shelter beds and significantly boost supportive housing.
The nearly 6-acre square of land sandwiched between Evans Lane and Highway 87 will soon offer 103 beds for unhoused families in the city’s Canoas Gardens neighborhood.
The site has been slated for housing for Silicon Valley’s neediest residents for at least four years, but it took a pandemic to help push the plan forward, Mayor Sam Liccardo said during a ceremony to mark the start of the project this week. “We have all been pushing together, and it has been incredible to see how quickly we are building affordable housing for homeless residents in a matter of months where it once took years,” he said.
Local officials have pushed state leaders for looser restrictions on developing temporary housing for the region’s massive homeless population during the pandemic. Gov. Gavin Newsom relaxed some restrictions for such projects across the state.
The first temporary housing project is getting underway as a new report—the 2020-2025 Community Plan to End Homelessnes—was released this week.
The document pushes the county leaders to work to house 20,000 residents through supportive housing and double the number of shelter beds in the South Bay. San Jose is already on its way, according to Jim Ortbal, San Jose’s deputy city manager.
“This is a downpayment on that we’re looking to have over 300 units as part of these projects,” he said. “Ultimately, we’d like to get up to 1,000 [shelter beds] in the city, so this is really trying to accelerate that and already beginning to deliver on that plan.”
San Jose’s first tiny housing community for homeless residents opened last year after years in the works. But the project on Evans Lane—and others like it in the city—has moved fast since April, when it was chosen as one of three sites for temporary housing.
Some residents have pushed back on the aggressive timeline, but others want the site to include permanent housing in the future, along with a slew of public benefits, such as a library and speed bumps to calm traffic, District 6 Councilwoman Dev Davis said. Those features are possible in future phases, she added.
“We are able to have an interim housing solution, while we’re working on a permanent development for phase one,” Davis said. “That’s what we can get when we work together with the community, when we listen beyond the initial ‘No, we don’t want this here,’ to really hear what the concerns are and then we can get to ‘Yes.’”
The Evans Lane project is happening after other developments for the site fizzled. Just last year, a project planned by Allied Housing for 61 homes on the same property folded due to financing roadblocks.
But this time, the project has a wealthy benefactor: Peter and Susanna Pau, owners of Palo Alto-based Sand Hill Property Co. The pair is donating the modular homes, which will primarily be set aside for families.
Habitat for Humanity of the East Bay and Silicon Valley, which typically makes for-sale housing, will help build the project. Nonprofit affordable housing developer Bridge Housing Community will manage the property. Habitat for Humanity and Bridge Housing will work together on three San Jose sites, including the Evans Lane property, to bring 308 new beds for homeless residents.
“We have a crisis within a crisis,” Habitat for Humanity CEO Janice Jensen said. “The need for housing is tremendous and now we have a health crisis on top of that. It really lays bare the plague that is going on every day, and that we can do something about both of those things.”
Many unhoused people are considered high-risk for the virus due to existing health conditions, so creating housing for them to quarantine has become a centerpiece of local and state leaders’ efforts to slow the virus’ spread.
The novel coronavirus, which has been spreading in Santa Clara County since about February, has infected at least 13,340 people and killed 208 in the county as of Thursday.
San Jose City Council members this year also approved temporary homes to rise on a city-owned 2.5-acre plot in District 2, off of Monterey and Bernal roads. There, 80 temporary shelter beds will rise within 16 to 20 modular buildings. The first phase will open Aug. 24 with capacity for about 22 people, according to city officials.
The final 120 homes will be built on Caltrans-owned land at Rue Ferrari and the Highway 101 Silicon Valley Boulevard onramp.
Meanwhile, state officials are working to expand an initiative called Project RoomKey, which was recently rebranded recently as Project HomeKey. The program providing temporary housing for homeless people through hotel and motel rooms is transitioning into an effort to create long-term housing for those same clients.
The three temporary housing sites in San Jose could also set an example for that effort, Liccardo said. The costs to create the prefabricated homes have been fraction of the expenses and time to build a typical residential construction project, he said
“What we’re trying to do is to demonstrate a new model,” Liccardo said. “A model in which we can get housing built quickly and affordable, even if we don’t have someone so incredibly generous as Susanna and Peter Pau to donate the housing.”