UPDATE: San Jose to house hundreds of homeless residents
San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan and his Chief of Staff Jim Reed shake hands with Brian Greenberg of LiveMoves at the Rue Ferrari interim housing site. File Photo.

    More interim housing and safe parking sites are coming to San Jose to move its homeless population off the streets.

    The San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved moving forward on four projects focused on safe parking and housing.

    A safe parking site with more than 100 parking spots for RVs and vehicle dwellers will open in North San Jose. Three different temporary shelter sites, which will add up to 300 beds, are also in the pipeline as city leaders look to build tiny home communities for the unhoused in every council district.

    These sites are part of Mayor Matt Mahan’s plan to complete an earlier goal of building 1,000 short-term rooms—known as interim housing—for the city’s homeless population. So far, there are 453 beds operating today, 204 under construction and several hundred more planned.

    Mahan has repeatedly touted the success of interim housing and credits it as the main reason for San Jose’s decline in homelessness. In the last year, San Jose’s overall homeless population decreased by 4.7%, or about 500 people. San Jose has roughly 6,300 homeless residents, 4,411 of whom live on city streets, according to the latest point-in-time count released in May.

    “We’re moving people out of unmanaged environments to managed environments,” Mahan said during Tuesday’s meeting. “I think it’s incumbent upon us… to continue to make investments, to proactively demonstrate to neighborhoods, that they will be made better, not worse off, by taking on these solutions.”

    City data presented during the council meeting showed that 50% of those in interim housing sites move into permanent housing while 9% returned to homelessness. These sites will also house homeless residents living closest to them and will not have a hard limit on how long residents can stay.

    Still, there was pushback from some residents voicing concerns about these homeless sites planned near their homes.

    Another safe parking site 

    An industrial 6.3-acre site at 1300 Berryessa in North San Jose will transform into a 24-hour haven for residents living in their vehicles. About 85 spaces will be reserved for RVs and 35 spaces for cars. It will be the city’s second safe parking site, with another one in the Santa Teresa VTA station parking lot set to open this summer after multiple delays.

    District 4 Councilmember David Cohen has been calling for the city to open a safe parking site in his area for nearly two years. Several industrial zoned streets in his district are lined with RVs, forcing decades-long businesses to consider moving outside the city.

    On Tuesday morning, some Berryessa residents protested outside of city hall because of fears around the proposed safe parking site.

    Berryessa residents protest the North San Jose safe parking site. Photo courtesy of Christine Li.

    Benjamin Wang, who came to council with his four-month old baby boy, said he worries about having a concentration of shelters in his neighborhood.

    “This community already has a tiny home transitional housing site and many low-income housing complexes, including senior housing and a community homeless shelter that helps homeless people get back on their feet,” Wang said. “Putting basically the largest RV (safe parking site) and concentrating it in this one area affects me and my family.”

    But Cohen said the site could not be more suited to the area because it is just over a mile away from the nearest school – the farthest distance of any temporary homeless housing – and is in an industrial part of the city.

    But this is no minor undertaking. The cost to open the site and operate it for the next five years will be $24 million, city documents show. The city will lease the land from a private landowner for 10 years, with an option for an additional five years. The first year’s rent is $1.4 million and then $1.7 million—with a 3.5% increase each year.

    Tiny homes from the state

    Gov. Gavin Newsom in March promised millions of dollars to open and operate temporary shelters for unhoused residents across the state, with 200 homes in San Jose. The city is looking to split that between two different locations—Cherry Avenue in District 9 and another in North San Jose’s Cerone VTA Yard in District 4.

    The two-acre Cherry Avenue site is on land owned by Valley Water near the Guadalupe River and Almaden Shopping Center. The city council already approved the Cerone VTA site last November.

    Both sites are estimated to cost $15 million each to develop. Each location will cost an additional $3.4 million annually to operate. They could have the first two years paid for if the city’s application to the state for funding is successful.

    Councilmember Pam Foley said she is elated to be able to finally open a site in District 9, which she represents.

    In case the state rejected the sites, the city had two backup locations: one near the Highway 101 and Bernal Road ramp and the other between the 101 and 85 ramps. It would sit close to the Rue Ferrari homeless housing site.

    However, the council decided to remove those from the backup list because there is already a concentration of interim housing sites in the area. Instead, council asked the city to explore working with the county to use the Fairgrounds.

    Benjamin Wang, who came to council with his four-month old baby boy, spoke against the safe parking site in North San Jose. Photo by Jana Kadah.

    Off-grid housing

    The privately owned two-acre site on Via Del Oro Street and San Ignacio Avenue in District 10 may be the newest place San Jose’s homeless residents can seek temporary shelter. An anonymous philanthropist said they would be willing to donate sleeping cabins to the city for free, according to city documents. In return, the donor expects the city to fund, design and handle site preparation, as well as utility connections and other logistics for a five-year community.

    The city is still determining how much it would cost to get the site ready, but operations would cost $3.4 million annually. The city is also considering whether it makes sense financially if it’s only operational for five years.

    “One novel element of this philanthropic partnership is testing the use of truly movable units that are movable and ‘off the grid’—utilizing solar and other mechanisms to dramatically minimize cost while leveraging temporarily unused land,” city staff wrote in a memo to council.

    Councilmember Arjun Batra asked staff to include what it would cost to keep the area clean in the final estimate.

    “We will have tremendous support in terms of being able to place these (sites) wherever we want,” Batra said. “As long as we promise that we’ll keep the area clean and we will minimize, if not eliminate, the encampments within that certain area.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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