San Jose is taking an offer from a legendary South Bay philanthropist to ease the city’s transitional housing shortage.
The San Jose City Council today unanimously approved a five-year lease for $1 annually from John A. Sobrato to construct Via del Oro, a 150-bed interim housing project, on land he owns.
Via del Oro will be a quick-build shelter in South San Jose on the southeast corner of Via del Oro and San Ignacio Avenue. It is slated for completion in the middle of next year. Priority will be given to homeless residents living near the area.
Mayor Matt Mahan said the city’s partnership with Sobrato serves as a model to other private landowners interested in philanthropy.
The homes at Via del Oro are expected to be relocated when the five-year lease expires. Mahan said there are hundreds of acres of private land the city could rotate shelters to as they become available for development with willing partners.
“This opens up a whole other avenue for accelerating the rate at which we create safe and dignified alternatives to our encampments,” Mahan said Tuesday.
Several residents who live near the proposed site said their area is already inundated with transitional housing and they feel homelessness around them has only gotten worse. The Rue Ferrari and Monterey/Bernal shelters are within a few miles of where Via del Oro will be located.
Councilmember Arjun Batra, who represents District 10 where the site is located, said the city will collect data to make sure conditions in the surrounding neighborhoods will be equal to or better than before the site was built.
“We want to make sure that those basic services which we talk about like keeping the cleanliness, we live up to our commitment,” Batra said.
Sobrato told San José Spotlight he has watched the city struggle to find land for various homelessness solutions in the last year, and decided to approach Mahan about two acres of land that have been unused for 30 years. Sobrato founded the Sobrato Organization, a real estate and philanthropic firm, in 1979 and his net worth is in the billions.
“I’m just trying to cover as much as I can in different projects to house the homeless,” Sobrato told San José Spotlight. “We all have to do our part.”
Sobrato has donated millions of dollars to local interim housing projects, including $5 million for the 204-room project under construction at Monterey Road and Branham Lane. He sits on the board of Destination: Home, a San Jose-based nonprofit committed to ending homelessness. He previously told San José Spotlight while the local homelessness crisis can’t be solved in his lifetime, it’s up to him and other philanthropists to ensure every homeless person is eventually housed so the region doesn’t remain “an area of haves and have-nots.”
Plans for Via del Oro call for 75 mobile, solar-powered two-bed “cabins” designed to last 10-15 years. City officials are recommending the site be built with centralized bathrooms instead of in the cabins due to the cost and complexity of future relocation. Shared kitchens and laundry rooms, outdoor seating and a 46-car parking lot will also be on site.
“We’re talking about small cabins that are lockable for around $75,000 (each),” Sobrato said. “(The project will) include additional buildings on site to provide services that the residents need, whether it’s workforce training or (help with) substance abuse, those services will be available.”
The city is also expecting $3 million in discounts from San Francisco-based homeless services provider and developer Dignity Moves, Gensler Architects and Swinerton Construction to complete the project. The city used a similar philanthropic model to complete the Guadalupe Emergency Interim Housing site near police headquarters.
Even with the generous five-year lease and construction discounts, the project is still expected to cost the city $18 million to build and then relocate. That’s about $75,000 per bed, which Deputy City Manager for Homelessness Omar Passons said is cheaper than the Guadalupe site and Mabury Bridge Housing Community, as well as the expected cost of $162,000 per bed to expand Rue Ferrari.
“There is additional value to testing a model that involves working with philanthropic partners and land owners willing to donate the use of their land … without the many challenges a typical lease can have,” Passons told San José Spotlight.
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