One of San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan’s main goals is to finish his predecessor’s promise and complete 1,000 interim homes for the unhoused by the end of this year—but city staff said that’s impossible.
Interim homes are quick-build temporary shelters designed to be a fast and cheap solution to getting homeless residents off the streets and on the path to permanent housing. Former Mayor Sam Liccardo set the original goal in 2021, and Mahan announced his end-of-year target at his inauguration. But when the issue came up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, housing officials said it will be at least two years before San Jose can meet the goal.
The city has built nearly 400 temporary homes since 2021 at five different sites. At the end of the year, 96 more will be available in a San Jose Police Department parking lot. By 2024, the city should have 304 additional interim homes built through the expansion of the Rue Ferrari site and a new development at Monterey and Branham.
That still leaves 200 homes to reach the goal—and the city hasn’t secured locations or all of the funding for the sites. Each site costs about $1.5 million to $3 million annually to operate, according to city officials.
Deputy City Manager Jim Ortbal said there’s no way to speed things up. There are four locations the city is considering building interim housing on, but the land is not city-owned, which drags out the process. Until contracts are in place, the city cannot even go out to bid and find a developer to design and plan for the site.
“That’s the reality of working with other people’s land,” Ortbal said.
The four sites under consideration are the Cerone and Cottle VTA sites—which are still pending negotiations with the public transit agency—one near Highway 85 and Santa Teresa Boulevard owned by Caltrans and another near Highway 85 and Great Oaks Boulevard owned by a private landowner.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like these sites are moving forward with the urgency that I hope, just given the crisis that we see out on our streets every day,” Mahan said.
There are roughly 6,650 homeless residents in San Jose, according to a count conducted last year—the highest rate the city has seen in 13 years. Mahan calls it a humanitarian crisis.
Councilmember David Cohen said it’s disappointing the city has not found a faster way to build more temporary housing. He said the city should at least have plans ready for when land negotiations are finalized.
“The idea for these types of sites is to have some standardization of our design and be able to really move quickly,” Cohen said. “(Having to wait until 2024) just doesn’t seem like we’re gonna move the needle like we have to.”
However, Cohen is happy to hear the city is making progress locating potential safe parking sites for people living in RVs. City officials identified five potential locations in his North San Jose district—three on city-owned land—which makes it easier to develop. Recreational vehicles line several San Jose streets—and the city doesn’t even have an idea how many there are. In Cohen’s district, the overflow of RV parking has forced some businesses to consider relocating to other cities.
Not only has the city been slow to build interim housing—the city’s only safe parking site is facing several delays. After years of planning, the sanctioned space at the VTA Santa Teresa light rail lot was supposed to open in January, but has been pushed back to May.
“We’re in the third year of being in a situation where it’s urgent that we get an RV parking site,” Cohen said. “We always seem to be months out from it and I don’t want to head into 2024 and still not have (anything started).”
By Jana Kadah for San Jose Spotlight