San Jose: New urban village plans could displace low-income renters
Debra Hernandez, 66, Gabriela Gabrian, 51, and Jo-Ann Bonin, 66, pictured outside Bonin's residence at 1530 West San Carlos Street in San Jose. The women are facing displacement amid plans for an urban village. Photo by Kyle Martin.

    A new development planned for west San Jose is expected to displace a handful of mostly low-income San Jose residents to make way for a new mixed-use 7-story residential and commercial urban village.

    “I thought this was going to be my forever home,” said Debra Hernandez, 66, who’s retired and has lived in her one-bedroom residence behind a pupuseria for about seven years. With only a Section 8 housing voucher and a supplemental income of less than $1,000 a month, she said finding a new place in San Jose is a struggle. “We’re one step from being homeless. If we don’t have money for a new place, we’re homeless.”

    A project application filed in April shows new plans for a new “Mid Century Modern aesthetic” building, with 104 apartments, 12,619 square-feet of commercial space and a basement-level parking garage at 1530 West San Carlos Street, where eight cottages house Hernandez and about seven of her neighbors.

    “We’re being booted out,” Hernandez said. “Only the rich are going to live here.”

    The former property owner, Liem Nguyen, told San José Spotlight he sold the property to Cupertino-based Urban Villas LLC through its real estate broker, Viji Mani. He declined to disclose the price.

    “It’s time to move on,” Nguyen said.

    Mani did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

    But his former tenants — some of San Jose’s most elderly, disabled and poorest residents — are having a hard time moving on as they scramble to find a new home.

    And while the area may seem secluded, tucked away behind a restaurant, a car dealership and a fence, all of which will be leveled for the new development, Hernandez and her neighbors say they’ve developed their own community that will be hard to replace when they’re forced to leave. She said many of her neighbors depend on each other as they age and battle ailments together and find refuge in each other’s company.

    “To have a community of friendship, that’s awesome. And that’s being broken up,” Hernandez added. “For other people’s gain, they’re willing to sacrifice other people’s health and well being.”

    Hernandez considers herself “lucky” — she was able to find a condo in the city to rent at below-market rate.

    Jo-Ann Bonin, 55, has lived on the property for 15 years. She’s had nine back surgeries during that time and, as she prepares for a tenth, she has to find a new place to live.

    When needed, she calls her neighbors to watch her cats while she goes to the doctor or picks up medicine from the pharmacy — and she’d do the same for them. But she’ll likely have to give that up when she moves to a different place.

    “It’s always been a pleasant place to live,” Bonin said. “I’ve always loved it. The thought of having to leave is very depressing.”

    And her other neighbor, Gabriela Gabrian, 51, is facing the same struggle. Gabrian, who’s formerly homeless and has resided at her home near Hernandez and Bonin with a housing voucher for a decade, doesn’t know where she’ll go when the eviction notice lands on her doorstep.

    “I’m not in a hurry to move because I don’t want to make a desperate move,” Gabrian said. “I want to move to a place that will continue to serve me and nurture me.”

    As a terminal cancer survivor, she said having stable housing has been her escape from “traumatic experiences” like homelessness, and called her current living situation “the most stability I’ve ever had.”

    Though if she doesn’t find a new place to live soon, Gabrian said she might find herself back on the streets again.

    “I’m going to stay until the very last day,” she said. “I have fear that I may not find a place.”

    It’s unclear whether the city’s Ellis Act protections, which offer financial support to help displaced residents relocate, will apply in this situation, officials said.

    “It is not common in San Jose,” Jeff Scott, spokesman for the city’s housing department, said of the Ellis Act. “The purpose of the Ellis Act is to help ensure that the city has naturally affordable rental units in neighborhoods all around San Jose. We want to make sure that those naturally occurring, more affordable rental units are not taken off the market unnecessarily.”

    But Susan Price-Jang, a local housing advocate and landlord, said the city’s Ellis Act should apply.

    “I think it should be challenged, if someone says it doesn’t apply,” Price-Jang said Monday. “I think we should challenge this. These are not separate houses. They all have the same address, just as though they are apartments.”

    Contact Kyle Martin at [email protected] or follow him @Kyle_Martin35 on Twitter.

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