UPDATE: San Jose one step closer to housing homeless at transit sites
The Cottle VTA station is one of two being considered for a tiny homes community for homeless residents. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Public transit sites may be the newest place to house San Jose’s homeless residents.

    On Tuesday, city councilmembers unanimously voted to create temporary housing sites at two VTA locations—Cerone and Cottle—to increase the interim housing stock, as homelessness in the city continues to climb. The Cerone yard is in North San Jose’s District 4 near Alviso, and the Cottle station is down south in District 10.

    “The No. 1 concern we receive from residents is about people who are living unhoused in their neighborhoods, in the creeks along the roads and unsafe, unsanitary conditions,” District 4 Councilmember David Cohen said. “Without these kinds of interim solutions, we’re not going to be able to actually resolve that problem.”

    The VTA board of directors still needs to sign off on the plans at a later date, but the council’s vote allows the city to go out to bid and start planning for construction.

    Interim housing sites are temporary, quick-build homes that provide homeless people a private room and bathroom, along with supportive services to move them into permanent housing.

    San Jose officials tout the success of tiny homes, noting roughly half those who move into tiny homes secure permanent housing after a few months. City documents show that blight and visible homelessness decreases near interim housing sites.

    However, residents near the Cottle station are not convinced of the benefits—with 1,300 signing a petition in opposition of the interim housing. They are concerned it will affect the safety of neighborhood residents and those visiting the nearby hospital. They also worry it will impact their ability to use the VTA light rail station and add more traffic to the already congested thoroughfare.

    “I do not believe that any project should be approved which proposes to improve one community by harming another,” said Jonathan Fleming, CEO and executive director of the Silicon Valley Public Accountability Foundation. “Cottle VTA is vital to our working middle class, and placing (interim) housing on a transportation site will put barriers to the use of VTA for ridership.”

    City officials said residents should not be concerned about safety or ridership—and that if they want to solve the homelessness crisis, these sites will help clear the streets.

    “We’ve got a lot of people working incredibly hard to make sure that these housing communities are good neighbors,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “All the evidence so far indicates that they are very good neighbors.”

    Expanding interim housing

    Last year, San Jose set a goal to build 1,000 temporary homes by the end of 2022. With work at the two VTA sites underway, San Jose will nearly reach its goal with 997 homes under construction or in development—with both VTA sites adding more than 100 homes each.

    City leaders are hoping to build tiny home communities in every council district. So far, Districts 2, 3, 6 and 7 have these shelters.

    But getting the housing sites built is not an easy process. San Jose’s efforts to create a safe parking site at a VTA Santa Teresa station parking lot, which will open in January, were met with backlash. When the city proposed an interim housing site at a park near Noble Avenue, dozens of residents rallied against it. With support from Cohen, the district’s councilmember, the city axed the project, noting tiny homes shouldn’t be built on park land.

    “Noble wasn’t a good fit and I opposed it from the beginning, but I don’t think we will see the same pushback with the VTA site,” Cohen told San José Spotlight before the vote.  “It is a somewhat more isolated site in terms of roads between it and other housing. I think it helps people feel better.”

    Cohen said the Cerone site is closer to shopping centers, transit and highways.

    The site will fulfill District 4’s goal of having a tiny home community. District 10’s interim housing site was going to be built on Caltrans-owned land near Highway 85, but the city is switching gears for the Cottle location instead.

    Both Cohen and Councilmember Matt Mahan, who represents District 10, hope the housing sites will shelter homeless people in the immediate area.

    “It’s only fair that the neighborhoods that take on transitional housing see the greatest benefit,” Mahan told San José Spotlight.

    Mahan, who will take the mayor’s seat in January, wants to ensure there isn’t an overconcentration of tiny homes in one neighborhood. San Jose officials will consider a policy to prevent overconcentration in December.

    “The truth is that different districts bear different burdens,” Mahan said. “We need every part of the city to step up.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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