UPDATE: Homeless housing site coming to San Jose police headquarters
San Jose Police Department headquarters. File photo.

    San Jose’s quest to find more affordable housing sites has brought it to approve an unorthodox piece of real estate: a San Jose police parking lot.

    The San Jose City Council unanimously approved Tuesday a prefabricated housing project in a parking lot at the San Jose Police Department headquarters along Guadalupe Parkway. It will include 16 prefabricated housing structures to temporarily house up to 76 homeless residents in 76 units. On-site services will include a shared kitchen and laundry rooms, a community room, bathrooms, outdoor common areas, dog space, security offices, fencing and a smoking area.

    People would live in the homes “for a few months,” city officials said, until they transition to permanent housing.

    “This is a great site. It happens to be a parking lot that I used to park in regularly. I still park there periodically in my role as a reserve officer,” said Councilmember Raul Peralez, a former police officer whose district includes the lot. “I appreciate that we did work with the police department to ensure we could secure that portion of the parking lot. This is going to be a tremendous site, great partnerships all around.”

    San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez speaks on a proposal for homeless housing. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Groundbreaking for the project is planned for December, with the first residents set to move there in June 2022. An operator for the site has not yet been chosen, but the city is aiming for early 2022 to do so.

    Prefabricated units can be assembled quickly off-site while a foundation is being built at the final location. The entire construction process takes weeks and costs less than brick-and-mortar projects, which can take years to construct. For example, prefabricated homes can start as low as $35,000, totaling about $150,000 per unit once fully built out with utilities, furnishings, common space and on-site services. By contrast, some affordable housing projects cost upwards of $600,000 per unit and take years to build.

    The city and county have looked at prefabricated housing in the past. A community of prefabricated homes was established in the parking lot of San Jose’s former city hall in February.

    The project will cost roughly $7.7 million, according to a city memo, which includes the costs of planning and construction. Approximately $2.5 million will come from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan, $3 million awarded from a 2017 housing discrimination lawsuit filed against the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, $500,000 from the state and a $1 million grant by nonprofit Destination: Home.

    An artist rendering of what the final project site could look like. The long rectangles are housing units. Two separate modular buildings will be used as common areas that include a kitchen, office space, and dining area. Photo courtesy city of San Jose.

    According to Destination: Home and city officials, the project will consult people who have been homeless in the design process.

    “When we listen to the people with the expertise who have experienced homelessness before when we’re designing homes for them to live in, it makes for a better partnership and a much better project in the long run,” said Ray Bramson, chief operations officer at Destination: Home who writes a monthly column about homelessness for San José Spotlight.

    Sand Hill Property Company, a Palo Alto-based real estate developer, will donate 16 prefabricated modules. According to Elliot Sands, COO of the company’s philanthropic arm, this will be the fourth project of its type in San Jose.

    “There is a great need in our community to help people transition from homelessness to permanent housing, and this is a great path toward meeting that need in our community,” Sands told San José Spotlight. “This project is a path toward permanent housing, which is something everyone in our community can support.”

    San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks about a proposal to create prefabricated homes for unhoused residents at SJPD headquarters. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Peralez and Mayor Sam Liccardo also pushed to make a committee of residents who live near the lot. The duo hopes the community group will help dissuade fears from local residents about homeless people moving into their neighborhood: Everything from worries of increased crime to an influx of drugs.

    “I wanted to support the site at the police station lot. It is far away from residences and parks and libraries and schools. And it has police that are close by who can monitor the site,” said Sheena, a resident who didn’t give her last name. “Just make sure that you provide the wraparound services that these people need unlike the Vista Montana site which is just a parking lot. We need more than that.”

    Liccardo and Peralez also want to hire some of the development’s future residents at San Jose Bridge, a city-run program that hires homeless people to clean trash in neighborhoods.

    “I think what we found in this pandemic was we saw an opportunity to use prefabricated, modular housing in a way that really hadn’t been used before, particularly identifying public sites. We’ve been able to dramatically reduce the cost of construction,” Liccardo said at a Tuesday news conference. “We think we’re on to something given the fact that it costs $750,00 to $800,000 to build a typical apartment unit in the Bay Area. We need to find more solutions like this.”

    Editor’s Note: Destination: Home Executive Director Jennifer Loving serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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