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San Jose Guts Tiny Homes for Homeless Program

San Jose’s villages of 25 tiny homes would cost about $1.4 million each. Photo: City of San Jose

The San Jose City Council voted 9-2 to slash its ambitious and innovative Tiny Homes Villages Program from ten villages city-wide to just two. The two clusters of 70-square-feet tiny homes, or “sleeping cabins”, will be piloted at two of four possible locations, including on Highway 87’s frontage road at Taylor Street. The two villages will house up to just 50 people, leaving 4,300 still homeless in the city. City Council members Donald Rocha and Johnny Khamis cast the dissenting votes.

The city’s vision for tiny homes for the homeless provides “a strong focus on creating cost-effective, livable spaces for unhoused residents” with “a progressive design that is vitalizing, dignified, respectful, and humble.”

“I think it’s important to recognize not every park is the same, I think we could clearly identify very large parks where it would be quite appropriate to have a [tiny homes village] site,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo, arguing to keep public land under consideration for sites. “We could also imagine very dense housing that’s a residential neighborhood, where it would be quite appropriate [to locate a tiny homes village]”.

Mayor Liccardo and City Council members Magdalena Carrasco, Chappie Jones, Raul Peralez, and Sylvia Arenas argued in favor of retaining a larger Tiny Homes Villages program with more sites, including public land, on fiscal grounds that housing San Jose’s homeless with tiny homes is cheaper than with traditional apartment buildings. More tiny home village sites will be identified by city staff over the next 60 days under the approved proposal, including sites on land owned by Santa Clara County, Santa Clara Valley Water District, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

“The cost is 550,000 to 600,000 a unit, and you’re not going to get everyone housed at $600,000 a unit,” said Liccardo of traditional multi-family, multi-story apartment buildings in San Jose. “It doesn’t work in the real world. So tiny homes is one solution of many that we are trying to explore.”

But City Council members Donald Rocha, Johnny Khamis, Sergio Jimenez, and Dev Davis objected, only agreeing to approve a single village site in San Jose, and only located on commercial or industrial land “away from residential areas.”

“Is this the right investment of our time and resources in the first place?… I’m not so sure that it is,” said City Council member Donald Rocha to applause. “Are there better ways to help the folks who are sleeping in the gutters, sleeping in the creeks, for this winter?”

“We know what sites we’re looking at, it’s just these last three [sites],” countered City Council member Raul Peralez, who argued for expanding the number of tiny homes sites under consideration, in line with the winning proposal.

“I don’t see the homeless as injuring us, because they don’t pollute,” said resident Tessa Woodmansee. “The gas leaves blowers, and trimmers, and mowers, all the noise and pollution from the buses and trucks” is what’s injuring us. “I want to honor the homeless.”