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Council member proposes 5,000 prefab tiny homes to help end San Jose’s homeless crisis

Council member proposes 5,000 prefab tiny homes to help end San Jose’s homeless crisis
New plan calls for 5,000 prefabricated tiny homes for San Jose’s homeless. Photo Credit: LifeMoves
By Wesley Severson - Published on September 21, 2021.

Communities consisting of tiny houses to help get people off the streets is not a new concept. It’s been done already in Silicon Valley on a smaller scale but now District 10 Councilmember Matt Mahan has a plan that would drastically ratchet up the idea across the city. According to San Jose Spotlight, Mahan believes that if the city teams up with Santa Clara County they could house 5,000 homeless people in prefabricated homes by the end of next year. The last official homeless census count put the number of homeless in the city at 6,097.

Mahan’s proposal claims that 100 tiny homes could be laid out on one acre of land. He wants the city and county to come up with 50 acres for the project which would create the space for 5,000 small structures. Mahan’s plan puts the cost to get one of the prefabricated homes ready to live in at $150,000. He says that price is much cheaper than other tiny home proposals the city has considered with some going as high as $600,000 per unit to complete.

“The money is there, the need is there, the land is there if you include other public agencies like the county and the cost-effective shelter is there now that prefabricated modular units have become mainstream. All the ingredients are there to end street homelessness in our community, but there’s been a lack of political will across all levels of government to do it,” Mahan told San Jose Spotlight.

Mahan believes the money for the project could come from the state’s Project HomeKey program along with funds from the city and county through local ballot measures. Mahan wants the city manager to start looking for sites and to come up with a list of options by December. He believes there could be options on city or county-owned land or at sites run by Valley Water, VTA, or Caltrans. 

A similar project is underway in San Francisco to turn two parking lots that were home to dozens of sanctioned "safe sleeping" tents for the homeless during the pandemic into a village of prefab tiny homes, which is happening in the next month. A lot next to Oakland's Lake Merritt is also getting tiny homes installed for the homeless, in a city partnership with a nonprofit. 

“We spend a lot of money on the Band-Aids of abating encampments and picking up trash and shuffling people around. These Band-Aids aren’t making anyone’s lives better. So I’d rather we put our energy into identifying the sites where we have the land and securing the tremendous amount of new state funding to build a safe shelter with scale and speed,” Mahan told San Jose Spotlight.

“We have found a quick strike modular solution that we think is high-impact and low-cost and brings people indoors in a dignified and safe way,” Aubrey Merriman, CEO of the Silicon Valley nonprofit ‘LifeMoves’ told San Jose Spotlight. The homeless advocacy group helped create a community in Mountain View with 100 tiny homes. Mahan is expected to bring his plan to the San Jose Rules and Open Government Committee this week. If the committee pushes the project forward, it will then be taken up by the San Jose City Council in the near future.