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San Jose approves 40 tiny homes for the homeless

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But city still has no consensus on where to put them

One of the Genslder designs for San Jose “tiny homes.”
One of the Genslder designs for upcoming tiny homes.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler

At a Tuesday City Council meeting, the city of San Jose approved a pilot program to erect 40 “tiny houses” (as small as 80 square feet or as large as 140, depending on the deign) as temporary shelters for the homeless.

But San Jose lawmakers still face the bigger hurdle of figuring out where to put them, with few residents eager to house the house-less in their own neighborhoods.

“We will not be considering whether we allow homeless in our neighborhoods, because they are already in our neighborhoods,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo noted before public comment on Tuesday. He added, “The question is whether we are going to allow them to be housed, and how.”

Some San Jose locals supported the project. Bob Stromberg, a manager with the homeless relief group Destination: Home, told the council, “The scale of our crises will no longer afford us the luxury of being choosy” about where temporary housing goes.

But plenty of others offered entrenched opposition even before the vote. In a letter to the City Council, Peggy and Larry Martinez offered a laundry list of complaints:

I do not want Bridge Housing Communities, aka Tiny Homes, in residential neighborhoods for the following reasons:

[...] Increased neighborhood crime, neighborhood blight, poor sanitation, threatens safety and health (eg. Hepatitis A, epidemic among homeless), property values will be dramatically lowered in neighborhoods with a Tiny Homes community near, [...] draw or magnet for more homeless to come into our area [...]. The homeless in our area continue to enter our community scoping our homes and property.

Another letter from Elvera Faria criticized not the possible locations but the tiny homes themselves:

The cost of these tiny homes is a misuse of taxpayers money when there are less costly alternative. The Housing Department has been working for two-plus years on this project and forgive me if I am wrong, wasn’t the whole point of these sleeping cabins to be cost effective and to be put up quickly?

[...] How will that help those living in them when you are segregating them from the general population? There will be a stigma attached to those living in these tiny homes.

A rendering of designer homeless shacks, red, cube-like units with sloped roofs.
Gensler’s “Folding Home” design.
Rendering courtesy of Gensler

The San Francisco-based firm Gensler produced two potential tiny home designs for San Jose in hopes of creating aesthetically pleasing and space-efficient temporary shelters.

Gensler also offered potential designs for the sites, including centerpiece plazas and “green berms” to make the area more pleasing for temporary residents--and, presumably, head off complaints about property values nearby.

In the end, however, the council approved the pilot program 9-2, with only Donald Rocha and Johnny Khamis voting against it, citing costs. The Gensler homes may cost more than $73,000 each, and the $2.4 million the city has set aside right now wouldn’t cover the entire project.