Six years later, Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park closure continues
Residents of Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park say their future was in limbo six years after the park's closure was announced. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

    Six years after receiving word that the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Park is closing to make way for luxury housing, the park’s residents are still uncertain about what’s next or when they’ll need to move out of the 111-unit senior community.

    “It came as a major shock to us when we woke up and we heard that the park was being sold,” said Mari Jo Pokriots, a longtime resident and secretary of the homeowner association’s Board of Directors.

    The board formed following news of the sale and members say their mission is to ensure that residents get the best possible deal out of the pending sale. The park’s owner and city officials have not given the residents a timeline for when they’ll need to leave. Many of the senior residents said they struggled to find affordable housing alternatives in Silicon Valley’s sizzling housing market.

    Board president Dave Johnsen said the board, which is comprised of six members, searched for an alternate buyer who would maintain the property as a mobile home park. They didn’t have much luck.

    “We couldn’t find anyone to buy the park at least to where it would be affordable for the residents,” Johnsen said. “Even though you may get a grant to buy the park, you still have to repay that money at some point. So rents would have gone up phenomenally.”

    The Cali-Arioto family, who’ve owned the land for more than 90 years, offered to provide the residents with replacement housing on the property, following the pending sale to PulteGroup. However, the elderly tenants were unhappy about sacrificing the space and value of their homes.

    “Nobody in this park bought in here thinking that they weren’t going to die here,” said Pokriots.

    Dan Carroll, a representative for PulteGroup, did not respond to a request for comment.

    The board, along with other tenants, took their concerns to the City Council which largely sympathized with the residents and, in 2015, established a temporary moratorium on mobile home park closures. The ban was extended to Feb. 2016 and later pushed to August 2017 while city officials worked to update the city’s mobile home park ordinance that dated back to 1986.

    Amendments made in Feb. 2016 provided some clarity and certainty to the residents, including offering moving and relocation costs, a specialist to help them find other housing and clarifying the city’s policy around “converting” the land for another use, as opposed to closing the park.

    The homeowner’s association board also secured help from the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. The nonprofit has been offering its services pro-bono to the residents as it works to negotiate an agreement with PulteGroup.

    “Our major goal is to prevent displacement,” said Matthew Warren, a senior attorney with the firm. “(We’ve been) engaging in negotiations in good faith for a long time, and we’re very hopeful that we can finalize this agreement moving forward.”

    Warren declined to share details about the agreement but indicated that the seniors would be granted a condominium-style unit where they could live for the rest of their lives.

    PulteGroup submitted development plans to San Jose in Nov. 2018 which are in the initial review stages.

    According to the plans, the proposal calls for 691 units which are divided among apartments and four-story condominiums.

    San Jose city planner Stefanie Farmer said staff is still gathering information about the proposal. The next steps include a community meeting before the proposal heads to the city’s planning commission and the City Council for final approval.

    Winchester Ranch residents say they’ll keep fighting for themselves and residents of the city’s 58 other mobile home parks, which are considered among the last affordable housing stock in the city.

    “There’s no panacea answer,” Pokriots said. “But this gives us the concrete parameters to what closing a park means and we’re hoping that this standard is so bloody high that nobody else will do it.”

    Contact Carina Woudenberg at [email protected] or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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