Could this be the site of homeless housing in San Jose?
A county-owned property on Hellyer Avenue and Embedded Way in south San Jose is being eyed for a new community for homeless veterans. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

A new homeless housing community is being planned in San Jose — but it likely won’t be located near you.

“We’re looking for a partnership,” said John Davis, retired Air Systems founder and primary funder of the project. “We don’t want to spend four years fighting with whoever is around us.”

Davis, along with Barry and Case Swenson of Swenson Builders, have pledged to use their own money to build a 76-member housing community for homeless veterans in a remote area of San Jose.

A screenshot from a virtual tour of the project created by Swenson.

The project is in its early stages but Davis said he is optimistic its blueprint could be used to house other homeless residents in California.

Mike Black, senior vice president of development at Swenson, said the team is looking for sites that can be privately owned.

“It’s a lot smoother process for us, financially,” Black said. “It’s just so hard to find a feasible site in today’s market.”

Once a site is selected, construction could be completed within a year, Davis said.

The project would be made of 36 two-bedroom cottages, which are technically classified as RVs, according to Davis. The project would feature a community center with a gym, case worker offices for supportive services, a laundry room and a pool.

An interior view of the homeless veterans housing community being planned by Davis and his partners. Screenshot courtesy of virtual tour created by Swenson.

Davis, a Vietnam War vet, said he was inspired by vets he encountered while participating in cleanups along Coyote Creek.

“It’s rampant with homeless,” Davis said.

Davis said he and his partners are looking for an area of land on which to build. Davis said he has spoken with Santa Clara Valley Water District board member Richard Santos, Santa Clara County Board Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo to see if there are available pieces of public land.

Davis said the Water District came up with a few sites for the project, but none was suitable. One was a large site in East San Jose in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

“That would never happen,” Davis said.

He and the other partners are looking for an area of land that is remote enough to not attract community opposition but  accessible to public transportation and other services.

Keith Collins, program manager at housing nonprofit HomeFirst, said remoteness of the site was not a concern, given that the vets will live in a community of their peers and have supportive services available onsite.

“I had an uncle that came out of Vietnam that had some issues,” Collins said. “Thank God certain programs like the one that we run at HomeFirst helped him.”

Keith Collins (left), Mike Black and John Davis (right), discuss the project while standing outside a potential site on Hellyer Avenue and Embedded Way in south San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Collins said HomeFirst conducts outreach for veterans along the creek and other areas where homeless people reside.

“We probably find 15 to 20 veterans a month that are homeless,” Collins said.

Davis said the barriers for developers creating homeless housing are too high, discouraging many from undertaking projects such as this. Meanwhile, local governments dedicate scarce resources to address other issues caused by homelessness.

“You can imagine how much money is spent just on picking up trash,” Davis said.

When asked how much of his own money he’d be willing to spend to get this community built, Davis said he couldn’t specify.

“It’s a big number,” Davis said, adding that the cost of getting the cottages delivered to San Jose would be around $1.4 million.

Davis said he and his partners hope to acquire at least an acre for the project.

“The bigger the footprint, the more vets we could house and the bigger the community would be,” Davis said.

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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