San Jose residents near a proposed emergency interim housing site at Branham Lane and Monterey Road want the 176 units to be built elsewhere.
The site, which is currently a homeless encampment, has long been a source of tension in the neighborhood. It’s one of several proposed sites awaiting Project Homekey funding. The city-owned housing project would feature 24/7 security and access to supportive services.
Project Homekey is a program funded by a state grant to support the conversion of motels to homes, as well as new housing construction for unhoused residents. The city is applying for $113 million in this second round of Homekey funding.
Building more shelter
On Oct. 5, all five of the Project Homekey housing proposals were addressed at the City Council meeting. In addition to the undeveloped site at Branham Lane and Monterey Road, the other four projects are San Jose motels the city wants to purchase and convert into housing with various levels of supportive services.
At the meeting, one letter from the public expressed support for the projects, and another pointed out the disproportionate amount of emergency housing in District 2—approximately 700 units—which borders the Branham-Monterey site.
“Long before this site was identified as a potential location, my office has been taking the lead in helping to address the issues stemming from that site,” District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez told San José Spotlight, referring to District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan’s recent interest in repurposing the parcel. The encampment is located in Mahan’s district.
The location was selected in part due to a flood of emails Mahan received about public safety issues in the existing encampment, he said. He sent out flyers and newsletters informing residents about the proposal and met with the neighboring Deer Run Homeowners Association before the City Council vote.
“I’m committed to continuing to work with the neighbors to make this site a win-win for the neighborhood and the previously homeless individuals that will live there,” Mahan told San José Spotlight. “What we can’t do is continue to accept the status quo. There are always a million reasons not to do something.”
Residents want the project elsewhere
Nothing is set in stone, but organized efforts to block the potential housing project are already in motion. Sophia Muni, a resident of the Frontier Village neighborhood, started a petition against the project and shared it on Nextdoor. As of this writing, the petition has 517 signatures.
“They’re less concerned about appropriate locations for these types of housing needs and more concerned that each district can say that they’re accommodating one,” Muni said.
Common concerns about the location are that the site is across the street from the Edenvale Branch Library and Edenvale Park, yards from Hayes Elementary School and adjacent to railroad tracks.
Residents also pointed out that the site has no existing infrastructure for utilities and will therefore be more costly to build on. The lack of drug testing at the site makes residents worry that drug users will be expelled from the property and resort to using in Edenvale Park.
The petition highlights residents’ suspicions surrounding real estate developer John Sobrato’s $5 million donation to the project. The donation struck Shawn Rutter, a long-time San Jose resident, as a strategic move to keep housing sites out of other areas of town.
Rutter, who has family members who have been homeless, said his stance against the project doesn’t mean he is unsympathetic.
“Everyone I’ve talked to, we all want to help. We just want these solutions to be effective,” he told San José Spotlight.
Rutter envisions an alternative “college campus-like” community with transportation and direct access to supportive services. He said he is “sickened” rather than comforted by the prospect of the site having 24/7 security, which would make it “seem like a prison.”
Muni shared a similar view: “The homeless residents are not prisoners. They should be able to feel safe and respected, but so should homeowners.”
Various residents suggest the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds as an alternative site. Frontier Village resident Sid Kamath is one of them. He believes other emergency interim housing communities in Santa Clara County were built in more logical locations.
“The (interim housing communities) in Mountain View are in the middle of corporate campuses where people don’t live with their families,” he said. “The one at Rue Ferrari is also not next to residential neighborhoods which is why they have not met with any resistance.”
Kamath fears the Branham-Monterey housing project will become home to the same issues facing similar sites in the city.
“The residents of the Vista Montana neighborhood in North San Jose, which has an RV parking site adjacent to their residences have all kinds of safety and quality of life issues,” Kamath said. “I only worry that the proposal at Monterey-Branham will be something similar.”
Contact Kristen Pizzo at [email protected]