San Jose plans to move forward with building housing for homeless residents on VTA property, but there appears to be disagreement over the inevitability of the project.
The City Council voted unanimously last week to pursue tiny home projects at the Cerone and Cottle VTA sites, located in North and South San Jose, respectively. Tiny homes are temporary structures consisting of a private room and toilet. They’ve become increasingly popular among Bay Area cities experimenting with new ways to battle the homelessness crisis.
By most accounts, the vote signaled that the project would move forward. While the VTA board of directors still needs to approve the project, VTA Board Chair and San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones is optimistic.
“Having my multiple hats on and looking at it from both sides, I don’t see why this is something that can’t happen,” Jones told San José Spotlight. “I just don’t see where there’s any deal-breakers.”
Yet a VTA representative cast doubts on Jones’ certainty Wednesday after this publication inquired about the project.
“We don’t have any plans with the city,” spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross told San José Spotlight. “Somehow they chose these sites to look at, but they haven’t discussed this with us.”
Whether the city will ultimately build tiny homes on VTA land is a decision that is still a long way off, Ross added, and will require more conversations between the agency and the city.
Councilmember David Cohen, who’s pushing for this project and whose district is home to the Cerone yard, insists it’s further along than Ross suggests.
“There have been regular meetings with people at the city and VTA,” Cohen said. “There is no doubt that those meetings have happened and high-level people at VTA were part of them.”
Carolina Camarena, spokesperson for the city manager’s office, confirmed San Jose has been in discussions with VTA about the feasibility of the sites.
“The city is optimistic that we can come to an agreement with VTA to help address the serious community-wide challenge of a large unsheltered population in San Jose and Santa Clara County,” Camarena told San José Spotlight. “We also recognize that VTA has certain needs and uses for its land that must be taken into consideration.”
Ross said these discussions “would have been extremely preliminary.”
VTA’s Policy Advisory Committee discussed plans for tiny homes at the agency’s sites Thursday, but did not make any decisions on the project.
Mayor-elect Matt Mahan, whose district is home to the Cottle station, did not respond to requests for comment.
Building homeless housing has proven challenging for the city in recent years as residents demand the city address the growing unhoused population, while some have simultaneously resisted housing sites in their neighborhoods.
The council proposed a similar tiny home site at a park on Noble Avenue in Cohen’s district, but neighbors fought the project until the city abandoned it in September. Another effort to create a safe parking site for vehicle dwellers on VTA property also proved controversial, though officials ultimately approved that site, which is set to open in January.
Fears that crime, fires and graffiti will increase around these sites have driven much of the backlash, though some city data shows calls for police and fire near emergency housing sites remained similar or even decreased within a year of those sites being built.
Reporter Jana Kadah contributed to this story.