A woman in a wheelchair looks out a window
San Jose resident Mary, who is wheelchair bound, was stuck in her apartment for a week, unable to get groceries, go outside or see a doctor because of broken elevators in her building. Photo courtesy of Debra Townley.

Disabled San Jose residents have been confined to their apartments for more than a week after the second elevator in their supportive housing complex went down. Residents said the slow response by the housing operator to this and other issues is upending their lives.

Villas on the Park, located in the heart of downtown San Jose and developed by nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), has two elevators — one which has been out for months. When the second elevator in the 83-apartment complex stopped working last Wednesday, the building turned into a “madhouse” according to one resident. Some residents were trapped inside the elevator for hours, while other disabled residents were waiting in the lobby to get into their apartment, including Mary, who is wheelchair bound. Seeing that no one was coming to fix the elevator that night, friends carried her up the stairs to her apartment.

Both elevators were down at Villas on the Park, confining disabled residents to their apartments and leading to one person falling down the stairs. Photo courtesy of Debra Townley.

Mary, who asked that her last name be withheld for fear of retaliation, was frustrated by the situation. She had to ask friends to help buy groceries. She couldn’t go to the park to get some fresh air. She wasn’t able to see a doctor for the swelling in her legs and to schedule an appointment to get her urinary cysts removed. She’s concerned about potential complications that could arise.

“I’m worried about my pain coming back,” Mary told San José Spotlight. “I can’t do nothing. I always have to depend on someone else. It’s horrible.”

Villas on the Park, which was developed by Affirmed Housing and PATH San Jose, opened in 2019. It’s one of San Jose’s first permanent supportive housing developments. Located at 280 N. Second St. near St. James Park, the $37-million project was primarily funded by San Jose and revenue from Measure A, a $950 million affordable housing bond approved by voters in 2016.

The day after San José Spotlight contacted PATH, a spokesperson said that Otis Elevator Company was on site making repairs. The company immediately fixed the elevator that had been down for months. PATH spokesperson Tyler Renner said the second elevator should be fixed by early this week.

However, hours later, the first elevator broke down again. That elevator is mostly working now with occasional glitches, according to a resident.

At least one person has suffered injuries as a result of the broken elevators.

Angel Dutra said she fell backward on the staircase while trying to get to her apartment, twisting her spine and injuring her knees. She called an ambulance because she couldn’t move her legs afterward. Dutra suffers from congestive heart failure, making it arduous for her to ascend six flights of stairs.

“It’s ridiculous,” Dutra told San José Spotlight. “I’m depressed, no one is trying to help.”

Brenda Buenrostro, building manager with the John Stewart Company which oversees daily operations, said the delays in fixing the elevators are due to the shortage in parts.

“We’re on top of Otis everyday trying to get an ETA on these things,” Buenrostro told San José Spotlight. “I know the parts were on backorder.”

Buenrostro said she offered to relocate the disabled residents while the elevators were down, but that they wanted to stay in their apartments.

However, Mary and Dutra denied that they were offered another place to stay, and said they would have preferred to be in a motel room while the elevators are inoperable.

Mary moved into Villas on the Park when it first opened, and said management has been slow at fulfilling a request she’s had for more than a year to have bars installed in her bathroom to help her shower.

“They’re just not very helpful,” she said.

Renner said PATH couldn’t comment on residents’ living situations because of confidentiality.

“We work with property management to resolve these matters as soon as we can,” Renner said. “ADA units are built into the building and retrofitting may be needed on a case-by-case basis.”

Contact Joyce Chu at [email protected] or follow @joyce_speaks on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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