San Jose: Affordable housing project for seniors raises concerns
San Jose residents packed a room at the Hayes Mansion to discuss a proposed affordable housing project for seniors. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

An ambitious, urban village project is underway and coming to Blossom Valley, but within it, a proposed affordable housing complex for seniors has some residents shaking their heads.

On Monday, city planning officials rolled out a plan to build a 147-unit affordable housing project for seniors at a community meeting at the Hayes Mansion. Hundreds of South San Jose residents sat in the crowded conference room as city officials and housing advocates discussed the future transformation of the neighborhood.

“Senior housing is a huge need. Homeless housing is a huge need,” said Kathy Robinson, director of development for Charities Housing, the nonprofit working with the city to build and manage the development. “Everyone needs a safe place to live. From my perspective we’re filling great community need.”

The project is part of the greater Blossom Hill/Snell Urban Village plan, one of the three approved urban village projects in San Jose. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors last December voted to approve a whopping $19 million from Measure A funds to finance the development.

The proposed development will demolish an existing 32,000 square foot building and remove eight trees to construct 147 units of affordable housing for seniors over the age of 62. The plan includes 16,000 square feet of ground floor for commercial, office, and residential use, including wellness, and behavioral health services for residents and the general public. The behavioral health program will be run by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, housing advocates said.

Both of these programs will be not only for the residents who live in the development, but they’ll be for the greater community,” said Robinson. “What we’re hoping is that we’re creating a space for social service businesses to thrive, which means they have to be able to reach out to the community and provide their services for everyone.”

Forty-nine units will be reserved for individuals who are formerly homeless or living with a disability.

According to the city’s website, the urban village will span from the “intersection of Blossom Hill Road and Snell Avenue and stretches down Snell Avenue to the VTA Snell Light Rail Station on and around Highway 85.”

Robinson said that rents will be between $769 and $1,646 depending on the size of the apartment. All residents will be screened extensively for income verification, criminal status, sex offender registration status, landlord references, credit and eviction history.

As a requirement, 100 percent of the project is designated for affordable housing. According to local housing nonprofit Silicon Valley at Home, the incomes of the residents must fall in one of two low-income categories: No more than $25,080 a year for the “extremely low-income” group and no more than $41,800 a year for the “very low-income” group.

Supporters of the project were sprinkled throughout the room wearing bright orange shirts and stickers that read “I Heart Senior Housing,” but loud complaints from concerned residents — many of whom were seniors themselves — dominated the floor. Though plans are in the early stages, many residents voiced concerns that the site will exacerbate traffic and congestion woes in the area. Officials read comment cards from residents, who also outlined concerns about safety, security and the “vetting” process for homeless applicants. Many were unhappy that they didn’t get to ask those questions themselves.

“They’re not actually answering questions that people who live in the area care about,” said Desiree Salguero, 62, a resident of the neighborhood for more than 25 years. “It’s not going to impact their daily life, but it’s going to impact my daily life. That’s a concern to me.”

Salguero said that while she’s not opposed to senior housing, the presentation did little to ease her concerns about potential congestion, traffic and crime that the project could bring to the neighborhood because of its scale and types of services that are being offered.

“The way that they’re proposing bringing in services to that area is going to make Blossom Hill and Snell more congested. We’ve seen a rise in traffic, a rise in crime in the area, and it’s slowly just getting worse,” added Salguero. “It’s a lot of units. To compound that with services, you’re talking about outside people — people coming from all over San Jose to come and use those services there.”

But supporters said the need for affordable housing — for seniors in particular — outweigh those concerns.

“I worked with homeless women who go from church to church and I’ve heard their stories,” said Kathy Schoeder, 72, a longtime resident of the neighborhood. “I know that the death of a spouse can create an inability to rent an apartment in this area and anywhere in California.”

Schoeder said that meeting many senior homeless women well into their 70s was an eye-opening experience for her. Many of those women ride a bus to Palo Alto at night to feel safe, while more than 50 percent of the women she’s met at shelters work full-time but cannot pay rent or support themselves on minimum wage.

A recent study conducted by UCLA Center for Health Policy Research last year found that at least three quarters of seniors in California struggled with paying rent. In Santa Clara County alone, 55 percent of seniors are considered “severely rent burdened.”

“I’ve been in my house 52 years and I have nothing but sympathy for our seniors who weren’t fortunate enough to buy a home and now could become homeless,” added Schoeder. “We’re really well aware of the need, so we’re hoping that this will go through.”

Project manager Ruth Cueto from the city’s planning department said an environmental review for the project will be completed in early September, before it heads to the Planning Commission in October.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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