San Jose lawmakers approve plan to keep Winchester Ranch seniors housed
Residents of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park say their future was in limbo six years after the park's closure was announced. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

    For seven tumultuous years, the residents of a west San Jose mobile home park dueled with the city over razing their community of mobile homes to build 700 units of luxury housing.

    But last week, the uncertainty the park’s residents faced for nearly a decade was put to rest. Lawmakers unanimously approved a plan that allows the community of more than 100 seniors to stay on the property despite the construction of the new condos — a win-win for the city and the residents of the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park.

    “The unanimous vote to approve the Winchester Ranch mobile home project was a culmination of years of hard work, compromise and collaboration that ultimately will allow the residents of the park to remain in their community,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, whose district includes the park.

    Getting here wasn’t easy. After years of negotiations and disputes with the city, the senior community living on the 15.7 acre land plot finally reached an agreement that would allow its residents to stay on the property in upgraded condos at their current rental rates. With the help of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, the first-of-its-kind deal was first reached last June and was officially set into motion Tuesday by the City Council.

    “The most important part of the agreement is that residents who wish to stay living at Winchester Ranch can stay,” Nadia Aziz, directing attorney at the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, said. “We strongly believe that mobile-home parks should be preserved, and that the City Council should scrutinize any decision where a park is closed or converting and residents face displacement.”

    Before reaching the landmark agreement, Jones said he would not support the development if the residents didn’t reach a resettlement agreement with developer Pulte Homes.

    Fears of displacement and homelessness had long plagued the seniors  — the majority of which are in their 70s and 80s and former teachers and public servants. The Cali-Arioto family, who’ve owned the land for more than 90 years, decided to sell the property years ago, causing a ruckus among the residents who protested the decision in fear they wouldn’t be able to find new housing or would be forced to move into a smaller unit.

    In return for getting the OK to begin construction, Pulte Homes has agreed to fund a “fair and equitable” relocation package, which includes transitional housing, accessibility improvements for disabled residents, a two-year rent subsidy for residents who plan to move elsewhere, moving assistance, and a new 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath unit with parking, storage, outdoor space and washer-dryer hookups for each resident.

    “With this landmark agreement, we celebrate the persistent spirit of the Winchester Ranch residents, the expert support of the Silicon Valley Law Foundation, the collaboration of Pulte Homes and the Ariosto family, and the hard work of many,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said.

    The years of uncertainty at Winchester Ranch spurred city legislation to protect and preserve the city’s mobile home parks, which are considered among the last slice of affordable housing in pricey Silicon Valley. San Jose is home to 59 mobile home parks, the most of any city.

    Just last week, news of a possible closure of the Westwinds Mobile Home Park — the largest in the city — caused a stir and prompted immediate action from lawmakers. The family who owns the land rebuked any claims they’re trying to evict residents, saying they only started looking into options of transferring control of the land back to the family and finding a long-term plan to protect residents from being removed.

    Liccardo said he hopes other cities will follow San Jose’s lead on creating viable solutions to the housing crisis.

    “The Winchester Ranch community provides a model for others to protect residents’ homes while making room for the housing that we critically need,” he said.

    The new development planned for the Winchester Ranch land, across from Valley Fair and Santana Row, will include a 2-acre neighborhood public park, recreational building and community pool. Construction, which will be done in phases, begins later this year. Developer Pulte Homes expects construction to finish by 2024.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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