Tiny homes in San Jose are being hailed as a fix to a growing homelessness crisis. But two policymakers are saying the sites in their districts won’t work.
The City Council this week voted 8-2 to approve a plan that would add 400 transitional homes, as the region’s housing crisis continues to push more people on to the streets. Councilmembers David Cohen and Matt Mahan voted no on the plan.
Under the plan, San Jose will expand two existing projects to add a total of 120 more homes and develop two new sites—each with 100 homes—in Districts 4 and 10 this year. The city is also looking to develop 80 homes at two other locations next year. The decision will double the city’s inventory of tiny homes for unhoused people. San Jose already has 397 homes at five locations. Tiny homes are much faster—and cheaper—to build compared to a traditional home.
But Cohen opposes the plan to build new tiny homes at the city’s proposed site in North San Jose because the neighborhood has been left out of the planning process.
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“It’s more important to do this right than to do it quickly,” Cohen told San José Spotlight, noting he’s disappointed the city only focused on one location in District 4. “There were many feasible sites in the district and (city officials) didn’t come forward with any options other than a site that they had floated to the community years ago that received vigorous opposition.”
The chosen site, at 14630 Noble Ave., is lodged between two elementary schools and steps away from the Berryessa library and Noble Park. Neighbors vehemently opposed the site for tiny homes when it was proposed in 2015. Cohen wanted the city to solicit community feedback before approving the project.
Cohen’s office pushed for the city to consider two different sites—one along Montague Expressway and one on King Road—both of which are close to grocery stores and public transit. The city will explore the options, officials said at the meeting, but won’t halt progress on the selected site.
City officials said the 2.5-acre vacant lot on Noble Avenue is among the six best options from a list of more than 140 sites in the city. San Jose already owns the land, and the location would allow for up to 100 temporary tiny homes. Officials will explore prioritizing seniors and families at the North San Jose site.
“None of these are perfect,” Jim Ortbal of the city manager’s office said Tuesday. “But we’re running out of sites. All the easy ones are gone.”
This week’s decision came after San Jose promised to add 600 transitional homes for homeless people. San Jose saw its homeless population explode in 2019, as the crisis continued to grow over the pandemic. A new tally of the unhoused population shows more than 6,700 people are sleeping outdoors in the heart of Silicon Valley this year.
As of April this year, only 76 short-term units were under construction in San Jose. The city is waiting on new state grants through the Project Homekey program to build a 204-unit project at the corner of Branham Lane and Monterey Road.
City officials also have a goal of converting 300 motel rooms into transitional housing. The city has secured funding through the Project Homekey program to convert 165 rooms at two motels so far.
Not an ideal choice
Cohen said he isn’t afraid of homeless housing in his district—but not at the Noble Avenue site.
“This site (was) a particularly difficult discussion with the community before,” Cohen said, adding the city has not revisited the issue with residents since. “To go back and say, we didn’t do it then but now we’re just gonna go ahead and do it, is not the right approach.”
San Jose officials will ask residents for feedback on the design of the homes, but not where they’ll go. That’s because many homeless housing projects were previously squashed by resident opposition, said Jacky Morales-Ferrand, the city’s housing director.
Allowing residents to say ‘no’ to a site will slow down the city’s progress and defeat the purpose of tiny homes, she told Cohen at the meeting.
But even homeless advocates aren’t supportive of the North San Jose site.
Advocate Shaunn Cartwright worries neighbors might harass homeless people there by calling the cops. The location is also isolated from services and public transit options, she said, which would make it difficult for those without a car.
“There’s no way us advocates would support this,” Cartwright told San José Spotlight. “The city will put unhoused people in such an uncomfortable position with the neighbors.”
A map of the new tiny home site in District 10. Photo courtesy of Office of Councilmember Matt Mahan.
Mahan also voiced concerns with the tiny homes proposed in his district on Great Oaks Boulevard. The site is half a mile from two existing homeless housing projects, a proposed safe parking site and a motel being considered under the Project Homekey program.
“I co-authored the original memo that called for distributing transitional sites equitably around the city and I strongly support adding a new site in District 10,” Mahan told San José Spotlight, “That said, I think it’s a mistake to cluster four transitional sites all within a half-mile radius at the southern end of the city. This proposal fails the equitable distribution test from my perspective.”
San Jose has 120 days to explore alternative options to the sites selected, officials said.
Contact Tran Nguyen at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.
Where will the new tiny homes go?
- Rue Ferrari Emergency Interim Housing in District 2, located 5898 Rue Ferrari, is an existing site serving 118 people. San Jose will add 100 homes here.
- San Jose Police parking lot site in District 3 has 76 homes under construction. San Jose will add 20 homes here.
- Noble Ave site District 4, located at 14630 Noble Ave, will have 100 homes.
- Highway 85 off-ramp at Great Oaks Blvd in District 10, (no address), will have 100 homes.
- Highway 680 off-ramp at South Jackson in District 5, (no address), will have 50 homes.
- Prospect Road near Highway 85 in District 1, (no address), will have 30 homes.
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