SAN JOSE — After more than a year of debate, the City Council approved a pilot program Tuesday to build up to three “tiny home” villages for the homeless — but the fight over where to place the unconventional homeless housing rages on.
The council approved the plan 9-2, with Councilmen Johnny Khamis and Donald Rocha opposed, after hundreds of residents and housing advocates packed City Hall to debate where to place the homeless micro-housing.
Residents on Tuesday complained that putting the homeless next to them would increase crime and reduce property values.
“I know people have called our arguments NIMBYish,” said Ashley Sweren, 38, a Thousand Oaks resident of 13 years. “But frankly, this experiment doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard until the city has run a pilot to ensure this is a manageable, economic and effective solution that is positive and safe.”
The council Tuesday eliminated limitations like keeping the tiny homes 100-150 feet away from houses, schools and parks — at least for now. Tiny home sites now must be at least 0.50 acres or inside a 10,000 square-foot building, with access to transit and utilities. City officials will revisit the matter in 60 days with a list of new potential sites and a detailed plan for outreach to residents.
The tiny sleeping cabins would be just big enough for a bed, window and locking door, but would provide temporary shelter to some of the city’s 4,000 homeless residents. City officials said each tiny home village could house up to 25 people.
Advocates for the homeless urged city leaders to support the plan, which is considered one of San Jose’s most innovative solutions to housing those in need, and to come up with more locations for the homes.
“When did we become so uncompassionate?” said Shirley Stager, 66, who works with several nonprofit agencies including PACT. “I read on Nextdoor people saying ‘Put all the homeless on a bus and take them to a remote area and dump them.’ What have we become?”
When the city began exploring the idea, council members had were asked to suggest sites in each of their districts. But only two did — Khamis and Chappie Jones.
San Jose housing officials identified 99 city-owned sites that met criteria of being city owned or leased land near transit and utilities as potential locations to consider for tiny homes. But after neighbors objected to placing the homeless near them, city officials added criteria to keep the sites away from homes, schools and parks. That pared the list to just four locations, but neighborhood opposition effectively eliminated one of those as well.
City housing officials Tuesday had initially suggested picking two potential city-owned sites for the tiny homes pilot.
Khamis and council members Dev Davis and Sergio Jimenez suggested eliminating city-owned land from consideration as potential options for tiny homes, and putting the villages on commercial or industrial land away from residences. Rocha supported that plan.
But Mayor Sam Liccardo said it’s disingenuous for San Jose to ask other public agencies to come up with suggestions for sites when the city refuses to use its own land.
“It’s important for us to hold ourselves accountable here,” Liccardo said, adding that using commercial or industrial land could add two years to the approval process. The mayor said the majority of homeless residents lived in San Jose before ending up on the streets and “they’re part of the community.”
Liccardo, along with Jones, Vice Mayor Magdalena Carrasco and council members Raul Peralez and Sylvia Arenas, authored the winning proposal to build no more than three tiny home villages citywide under a one-year pilot program. It included some provisions from Rocha’s proposal, including reaching out to other public agencies for site suggestions.
As part of that plan, the council agreed to send a letter to the county, Santa Clara Valley Water District and other public agencies to ask for help in finding land for the tiny homes. The city’s goal is to eventually place one tiny home village in each of San Jose’s 10 council districts.
Also Tuesday, the council directed housing officials to work with Destination: Home, a nonprofit that combats homelessness, to possibly create a new homelessness task force.
Another major hurdle in San Jose’s quest to build tiny homes was public outreach. After releasing the initial list of 99 potential sites, housing leaders met with neighborhood groups — but not the general public. Housing director Jacky Morales-Ferrand said Tuesday that was “a terrible approach.”