Seniors empty San Jose mobile home park after years of debate
A bulldozer rolls through Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park. Photo courtesy of Eugene Luu.

    Six years after a developer revealed plans to replace a San Jose mobile home park that housed seniors with luxury condos, some residents found themselves surprised they don’t qualify for the replacement housing that was promised.

    While most residents seem to be happy with the agreement that allowed owners of the mobile homes in the park to either be bought out by the builder or receive one of the new condos being developed, at least three others are being told they don’t qualify for replacement or interim housing.

    But demolition is already underway at Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park — and luxury housing will soon rise from the dust. The first homes were torn down last year. Others were recently moved to other cities.

    To avoid displacing 145 seniors who lived in the mobile homes for decades, development company PulteGroup promised residents one of the new luxury condos being built on the site of their former homes. PulteGroup also told residents their rents would not change—mobile home parks charge homeowners to rent the land under them, essentially.

    Dave Johnsen, board president of the Winchester Ranch Senior Homeowners Association, said three people  have been asked to leave. One took a payout and another — who was asked to leave by the end of the month — has pushed back against his disqualification.

    Johnsen, who has lived in the park since 2010, said the agreement he negotiated with Pulte Group was clear about who was eligible for new housing and interim housing. According to the agreement, residents must have owned their home before Dec. 2017 to get replacement housing. A person who owns a second home and lived in that home as their primary residence before 2017 would also be disqualified.

    The three residents not being given replacement housing, Johnsen said, likely moved in after 2017, had another home or were living another person’s mobile home. Winchester Ranch required residents to own the mobile homes in the park.

    “We can apologize all day — so can Pulte — but it doesn’t alter the facts,” Johnsen said.

    Officials from PulteGroup said qualified residents are not being kicked out.

    “Qualified owners who maintain their primary residence at Winchester Ranch are eligible for on-site replacement housing or a relocation package as construction proceeds,” said communications manager Macey Kessler. “This agreement is beneficial to both sides, as it allows us to bring much-needed new housing to San Jose, while ensuring current residents can remain in their neighborhood.”

    Nadia Aziz, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, which advocated for the residents, confirmed residents who did not live at Winchester Ranch before Dec. 2017 or did not own the mobile home would not be eligible.

    If someone is ineligible for the replacement housing, they will be offered a payment worth the value of their mobile home. If a resident thinks they are eligible and was told otherwise, they can go through an appeals process, Aziz said.

    PulteGroup bought Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park in 2015 from the Arioto family, who owned the property for almost 90 years. The park, situated near the Winchester Mystery House and Santana Row, will eventually be transformed into a two-acre public park and 687 units of luxury housing.

    Residents who feared they would be displaced spent years negotiating terms with PulteGroup so they could continue to live onsite during and after construction. A formal agreement between the two parties was reached in 2019. San Jose’s current policy ensures residents get fair payment for their mobile homes if a park closes. PulteGroup agreed to give residents new housing or money to relocate and compensation for their home. Construction is expected to finish in 2024.

    Johnsen said he isn’t sure how many people will be left by the time the new condos are finished. He said since negotiations started, many residents have taken payouts, moved to assisted care facilities or have died.

    But those who are still around are better off because PulteGroup is providing interim housing, he said, adding that many residents are living on a fixed income and would end up homeless if PulteGroup didn’t supply the housing.

    Some residents traded the opportunity to live in the new condos with the money to begin anew.

    Mari Jo Pokriots, who lived in the park since 1977 and was heavily involved in initial negotiations with PulteGroup, took a $275,000 payment in exchange for her home and moved to Reno to be closer to her family.

    “I thought it was a killer deal,” she said. “I paid $45,000 for the home. I have no complaints.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.

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