Downtown resident Petra Pino describes her reaction to building homeless housing on a shuttered supermarket site near her home with one word.
“I’m livid,” Pino said. “I’m not being asked if this disturbs me or not. I’m being told that this is going in my neighborhood. Why us? Why not District 10? Why not District 1?”
And Pino wasn’t alone. Dozens of people on Tuesday flooded the Grace Community Center to speak out against a plan to build nearly 100 supportive housing units on the abandoned Dick’s Supermarket site north of Japantown.
Pino said she worries for the safety of her family because her new neighbors wouldn’t be “people who are serving the neighborhood.”
“We get overburdened with these things,” Pino said. “It seems like a bad idea.”
Despite the pushback and sharp criticism, this time city leaders started the community engagement process early.
Amy Anderson, executive director at PATH, the nonprofit organization behind the project, told the several dozen people at the meeting that plans for the project are not yet finalized. That’s why PATH held the meeting, she added.
Councilmember Raul Peralez, who couldn’t attend because of a City Council meeting, agreed that PATH didn’t have to hold public meetings about the housing project this early in the process. The organization could’ve submitted plans first and then did the “bare minimum” of one community meeting later.
“I can’t stress enough how early in the process this is and that per City policy, PATH or any developer would not have been required to come in front of the community at this point,” Peralez said.’ Had they wanted to avoid this level of scrutiny they could have refused any community meeting requests from me until they actually purchased the property and submitted an application for a development proposal.”
But the early engagement didn’t stop the often-emotional attendees from raising concerns about lack of parking, potential increase in crime and the neighborhood’s desire for a grocery store.
Ludmila Parada, a member of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, told San José Spotlight that her neighborhood supports affordable housing but District 3 shouldn’t carry the biggest burden when it comes to housing some of the city’s 4,000 homeless residents.
“This is a neighborhood that is mostly working class,” Parada said. “It seems like entities like PATH decide to build in our neighborhood because we don’t have the money to sue.”
PATH officials said the organization has a referral process for tenants of the proposed complex, which would include rejection for violent criminals and drug manufacturers, though violent felons also would be reviewed on a “case-by-case” basis.
“It’s important to recognize it’s not a shelter, it’s not a drop-in location,” Anderson said. “It’s a forever home.”
Some residents asked about arming the homeless housing complex with security guards. Anderson said that PATH “typically” doesn’t have onsite security guards, though it will employ on-site staff.
“Our vision is a building that is youthful, functional and contributes positively to the community,” Anderson said, adding that there is “no evidence” that moving formerly homeless tenants into supportive housing increases crime in communities. “It’s important to remember that not everyone experiencing homelessness have mental illness.”
Anderson said 86 percent of individuals who’ve gone through PATH programs remained housed for at least a year, attributing that to PATH’s “progressive intervention” methods to step in when a tenant needs help with mental illness or addiction.
Each room could cost about $550,000 to build, Anderson said, and parking requirements for the project amount to one-third of a parking space per tenant — a sticking point for some critics of the project.
Peralez, who was recently forced from his rental home amid rising rents, said he has championed more affordable housing measures than any other San Jose elected official. But he acknowledged that his downtown district is home to the majority of the city’s homeless population.
“I am not interested in entertaining the rhetoric that somehow we can house our own homeless neighbors in someone else’s city or someone else’s backyard,” Peralez said. “In San Jose we are going to house our homeless neighbors right here where they already live.”
Contact Kyle Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.