A man and woman stand inside at a podium during a press conference in San Jose
Karen Lattin, Los Paseos neighborhood leader, speaks about the importance of quick-build housing for homeless residents in South San Jose alongside Mayor Matt Mahan on April 17, 2024. Photo by Jana Kadah.

A homeless housing project is coming to South San Jose, and city officials want to clear the area of unsheltered encampments before it’s built.

The San Jose City Council this month unanimously approved a 10-year lease for $1 annually from prolific philanthropist John A. Sobrato to construct Via del Oro, a 150-bed temporary housing development. It will be built on land Sobrato owns at the southeast corner of Via del Oro and San Ignacio Avenue. The approval also includes the right for homeless residents living within a 1.5-mile radius of the site to be first in line for housing, while two-block area around Via de Oro will become a no encampment zone.

San Francisco-based nonprofit DignityMoves is the project developer — securing a contract with the city for $10.7 million. This is the first partnership between San Jose and the group, which will be responsible for obtaining funding and overseeing construction.

Plans for Via del Oro call for 75 mobile two-bed cabins designed to last 10-15 years. There will be a mix of shared and personal bathrooms, along with shared kitchens and laundry rooms, outdoor seating and a 46-car parking lot on site.

“We have to prove to our community that we can use their precious and limited tax dollars to move the needle on this issue,” Mayor Matt Mahan said. “If a neighborhood takes on the solution to homelessness — which is shelter, housing and supportive services — that neighborhood should be better, not worse off because of that investment.”

The city will do a one-time sweep of the homeless encampments near Via del Oro and put up signs and other physical deterrents to prohibit tents and makeshift shelters.

The South San Jose area near Via del Oro is inundated with RVs and lived-in vehicles, and councilmembers want to create 72-hour parking restrictions, tow away zones and enforce no overnight or large parking zones. The city council recently approved similar policies near some San Jose schools.

Councilmember Arjun Batra, who represents the area, said these deterrents are necessary because South San Jose disproportionately houses more temporary homeless sites than any other part of the city.

There are 354 new beds opening across the Via del Oro and Branham-Monterey sites in 2024 — bringing the total bed count to 690 in South San Jose. This doesn’t include the 42 parking spaces at the Santa Teresa safe parking site.

Karen Lattin, a South San Jose resident and Los Paseos neighborhood leader, said it’s critical that the city keeps the area clear of encampments and blight so support doesn’t dwindle for temporary housing for homeless residents.

“When people go by and they see (temporary housing) and then they look across the street and they see a really bad encampment, they associate the two,” Lattin said. “These areas should be an example… We all know we need more of these developments.”

San Jose’s homeless population shrunk by 4% in 2023, and the mayor credits temporary homeless housing as the main reason. Mahan said the goal is for every district to have a temporary housing site.

Councilmembers lauded the Via del Oro site, noting it’s the epitome of innovative public-private partnerships. But it’s not the first time Sobrato has supporting homeless solutions.

Sobrato has donated millions of dollars to local temporary housing projects, including $5 million for the 204-room project under construction at Monterey Road and Branham Lane. He also sits on the board of Destination: Home, a San Jose-based nonprofit committed to ending homelessness.

The proposed site for a 150-bed temporary cabin-style housing project at the corner of Via del Oro and San Ignacio Avenue in South San Jose. The land is owned by John Sobrato. File photo.

Sobrato previously told San José Spotlight while the local homelessness crisis can’t be solved in his lifetime, it’s up to him and other philanthropists to ensure every homeless person is eventually housed so the region doesn’t remain “an area of haves and have-nots.”

DignityMoves CEO Elizabeth Funk said her nonprofit has a proven reputation for being nimble in cost and time when bringing temporary housing for the homeless online. The Via de Oro project is expected to open by year’s end.

“We’ve already done site plans. We’ve already done the budget. We have it already to push the ‘go’ button, which (the council did). So the pre-planning is ready to go,” Funk told San José Spotlight. “We are placing orders for modular units, utilities and other stuff.”

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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