Five years after converting the defunct Plaza Hotel into homeless housing, city leaders unanimously approved a plan to double its capacity.
“The investment the facility needs is pretty significant to be able to house as many people as we want and we can,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez. “This is the first step to be able to do that.”
The 47-room property on 96 S. Almaden Ave. in downtown San Jose has housed 30 individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 since March 2020, and 87 homeless individuals since 2018 through the city-funded Rapid Rehousing program, which helps homeless individuals secure housing, money for rent and support services.
San Jose acquired the hotel in 2015 for $740,000 and approved a $1.8 million grant the following year to lease and rehabilitate the dilapidated property.
The San Jose City Council on Tuesday approved increasing capacity from 23 units to 40, allowing more homeless individuals to have a roof over their heads during the COVID-19 pandemic. After July, the rooms will be used to support homeless young adults from ages 18 to 24, according to city leaders.
“In the short term, we can house people who are vulnerable to COVID-19, which will help slow community spread of the virus and keep people safer,” said Jeff Scott, a spokesman for the Housing Department. “In the long run, the Plaza can be a resource in our homeless response system for homeless young adults who need housing as well as supportive services.”
To fund the expansion, the city will award a $519,485 grant to Abode Services, a Fremont-based nonprofit.
The Plaza Hotel recently faced challenges in reaching full occupancy. Abode reduced the resident capacity to 50% because the building’s plumbing system failed to keep up. Residents also did not want to use their rental subsidies for interim housing, opting to save them for permanent options.
“The issue is that many don’t qualify for housing at the Plaza (Hotel),” Scott said. “For example, families cannot be housed at the Plaza because the rooms are single occupancy… Other people who have time-limited housing vouchers don’t want to use them on interim housing at the Plaza; they prefer to save their vouchers to help them get into long-term housing.”
Under the new program, the Housing Department will fund an agreement with Abode Services directly, instead of relying on funds with federal subsidies, which make it difficult for individuals to qualify, according to city documents.
During the pandemic, Abode will provide Plaza Hotel residents with services such as job training, addiction support and assistance in finding stable housing.
Abode Services, however, has come under fire in recent months for poor living conditions at the Renascent Place in East San Jose, including not providing internet, medical care, mental health support and job services as promised. Tenants at Second Street Studios, another property managed by Abode, expressed concerns about similar living conditions and threats of evictions.
Paul Soto, who was previously homeless, told lawmakers Tuesday the hotel rooms are a “vital” resource but called for added oversight with Abode Services and its management.
Vivian Wan, Abode Services’ chief operating officer, said the organization is asking people who have experienced homelessness to weigh in on services and site improvements.
In the 2019, a countywide homeless count found 9,706 people are homeless in Santa Clara County and 7,394 people are unsheltered in San Jose. The count found 25 percent of the homeless individuals were under 24.
A report from the California State University system found 11% of students have experienced homelessness during their time in college, and at San Jose State, the number is 13.2%. In 2020, it was estimated that there were more than 4,000 homeless students at San Jose State.
“Given Plaza’s proximity to the university, the growing need and the desire to decrease the flow of individuals into homelessness, this was a great fit,” Wan said. “In talking to partners, it became clear that we should broaden the target population to general transition age youth.”
Housing advocate Sandy Perry welcomes the initiative to expand resources for homeless individuals and especially young adults, but argues San Jose is not doing enough to support unhoused individuals.
Just last week, the City Council voted to resume sweeping homeless encampments.
“This is one of the richest areas in the world,” Perry said. “Why can’t they take care of our people? They need to be much more proactive and visionary. And they need to have some basic humanity.”
Contact Patricia Wei at [email protected]