San Jose has a lofty goal to triple its number of temporary homes by the end of this year, but progress is slow as the city has only broken ground on one development so far.
Last September, Mayor Sam Liccardo and several city councilmembers introduced a plan called “Compassionate San Jose—Bold Housing Solutions” with the goal to cut homelessness down by 20% through new—and cheap to build—emergency housing.
The plan calls for roughly 600 prefabricated homes to be completed or under construction by December. The proposal also wants to see at least 300 motel rooms converted to serve some of the most vulnerable residents in the city. Since then, San Jose has moved forward with only one development—a 76-unit interim housing project at a San Jose Police Department parking lot.
Officials broke ground on the project in early February and estimated it would take six months to complete. City housing department spokesperson Jeff Scott this week said the residences will be ready in the fall with no specific date scheduled yet.
San Jose is reckoning with a homeless crisis that has grown to unmanageable levels. Thousands are living in tents and RVs under highways, in front of businesses, on sidewalks, along waterways—and at a sprawling encampment near the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration has demanded the city clear out the flatland, citing safety concerns. The FAA is threatening to withhold millions of federal dollars if the homeless camp isn’t cleared this year.
The city is also hoping more funding from a state grant program called Project Homekey will come in this year, which would help convert a few hundred motel and hotel rooms into supportive housing and build a new 204-unit interim housing development.
But so far, the city has made little progress—applications to buy Arena Hotel on The Alameda to build the 204-unit project at the intersection of Branham Lane and Monterey Road did not get funding this round. The mayor’s spokesperson Marcus Ismael said the city is expecting the applications to be approved at a later date.
The city recently submitted two more Project Homekey proposals to acquire Pacific Motor Inn on South Second Street and Pavilion Inn on North Fourth Street.
Liccardo, who leads the efforts, said the city is “continuing to press ahead” with the goal.
“I’m heartened by my council colleagues’ recent support of our budgetary proposal to invest Measure E dollars to implement this cost-effective approach to moving our residents off the street,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. Measure E, which voters approved in 2020, is a property transfer tax increase that goes toward supportive and affordable housing.
Hitting the numbers
But Councilmember Raul Peralez, one of the lawmakers who supports the interim housing plan, said the city won't meet its own deadline.
"We have a lot of ambitious goals to try and hit and we need to hit those numbers," Peralez told San José Spotlight. "But the reality is that getting these projects approved is very difficult."
The rejection of the two Project Homekey applications has set the city back, Peralez said. He held a news conference Wednesday to urge the state to accept the Pacific Motor Inn application. The project is backed by homeless services nonprofit PATH Ventures and Westbank Corp, which has plans to integrate the motel with its high-rise project next door. If the state approves the application, the motel would add 72 supportive housing units.
Policymakers behind the effort envision San Jose building six additional interim housing sites—replicating the existing tiny home communities on Rue Ferrari, Evans Lane and at Bernal Road/Monterey Road—in districts that don't have any homeless housing projects currently. The City Council will get an update on the sites in June.
"Site analysis is still underway," Camarena told San José Spotlight, adding city officials are evaluating a list of more than 100 sites.
Project Homekey issues
When officials proposed the housing plan last year, San Jose already had 397 temporary homes at five locations. Using roughly $11 million in state funding, the city also acquired a SureStay hotel on North First Street near Mineta San Jose International Airport that has 76 residences.
The city is now looking to sell the SureStay hotel, a city spokesperson confirmed this week, noting San Jose typically doesn't buy and hold residential property. The city is looking for a developer to operate the hotel in the near term, with plans to eventually redevelop the site as an affordable housing community.
The hotel served as emergency shelter during the early days of the pandemic. San Jose was planning to charge rent at the hotel last year, but the state intervened. The hotel currently houses formerly homeless individuals who have some risks, but don't yet qualify for permanent supportive housing. Nonprofit Abode Services provides some assistance at the site.
When San Jose bought the hotel, it didn't ask the owner for any improvements or renovations. Tenants who have lived there for two years said they continue to deal with holes under staircases, rattling railings, bursting pipes, broken appliances, mold and roaches.
SureStay tenant Cheryl Fleming, 66, also said case workers have offered little services as they either quit or moved on to other jobs after several months at the site. Fleming said she tried to make do, as she knows the alternative is going back to the streets.
"There has been some good and some bad," Fleming told San José Spotlight, adding she's working to get into a more stable housing situation. "But I'm grateful to be here."
The city prioritized fixing the staircases, a city spokesperson said. San Jose has also finished renovating some rooms with new carpets and furniture. But construction has come to a halt recently, residents said.
"I need to get out of here soon," Fleming said. She hopes to get a room at the new affordable housing project on Fourth Street.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.