San Jose seniors facing displacement reach agreement to stay housed
Residents of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park have fought to save their homes for six years after the park's closure was announced. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

    Hundreds of San Jose seniors at risk of being displaced will receive a new home when their mobile home park closes, ending a painful saga that ignited a citywide debate about preserving mobile home parks in pricey Silicon Valley.

    The announcement six years ago that Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park would close to make way for a new housing tower rocked the 111-unit senior community. Many residents in the 70s and 80s, who lived inside their mobile homes for decades, worried about where they would go or how they’d afford alternative housing in the nation’s most expensive rental market.

    The news also sparked a citywide debate about saving San Jose’s 59 mobile home parks, which are among the last sliver of affordable housing in the South Bay. City leaders passed policies to discourage the closure or conversion of mobile home parks to alternative uses, and to benefits such as advance notice and provide relocation assistance to displaced residents.

    The Cali-Arioto family, who has owned the Winchester Ranch property for more than 90 years, sold it to PulteGroup to develop 691 market-rate apartments and condos. The land, across from the high-end Santana Row and Valley Fair shopping centers, has skyrocketed in value. But the residents, determined to save their homes, formed a homeowner’s association and teamed up with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley to fight back.

    The agreement was unanimously approved by the residents.

    “This agreement is an example of how to achieve equitable development that doesn’t displace people already living in that community,” said Nadia Aziz, directing attorney for the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley.

    On Wednesday, officials announced a “landmark” agreement was reached between the two sides that would allow current residents to move into on-site replacement housing at the same rent. It would also retain certain tenant protections, such as rent increase limits.

    Mari Jo Pokriots, a 40-year resident and secretary of the homeowner association’s Board of Directors, told San José Spotlight that she considers the deal a victory that sets a standard for other mobile home parks.

    “If we set a standard so that no other mobile home park has to go through what we did — because that standard is so high — then we’re happy,” Pokriots said, adding that she’ll stay on site. “I’m staying until the end. I think it’s a win-win; I’m happy.”

    San Jose has more mobile home parks than any city in California, with 11,000 homes and 35,000 residents. Industry experts say mobile homes are more susceptible to development pressure — especially in prime locations such as Winchester Ranch — because residents own their home, but pay rent for the land underneath.

    The Winchester Ranch Senior Homeowners Association has been actively negotiating with PulteGroup for three years to prevent displacement of the elderly residents. The association represents more than 100 seniors living in the park, including former teachers and public employees.

    “The last thing you want to worry about is becoming homeless,” said Dave Johnsen, board president of the association, who’s lived in the park for nine years. “Now we can stay in our own neighborhood and remain part of the community that we have invested in and belonged to for so long.”

    According to the announcement Tuesday, the construction will be done in phases to “minimize the impact on current residents.” If residents wish to move sooner, the agreement outlines terms for replacement and interim housing, rent differential, moving assistance and value assessments for the residents’ mobile homes by a pre-qualified appraiser.

    “I’m grateful to partners like the Law Foundation for their collaborative efforts to reach an agreement that protects the residents of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park, while also allowing development of additional housing amid our city’s housing crisis,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo in a statement.

    Under the agreement, residents are waiving their rights to purchase the park and agreed not to oppose the development.

    “Approval of this agreement is an important milestone and we are pleased that this community is now one step closer to beginning its development,” said Dan Carroll, PulteGroup’s vice president of land acquisition. “By working in a collaborative process with the board and the residents of Winchester Ranch, we create a win-win that allows us to bring much needed new housing to the City of San Jose, while ensuring current residents are able to remain in their neighborhood.”

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