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UPDATE: San Jose eliminates safe parking program, drops decision on forgivable loans for granny units

Less than a year after it was first launched, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to scrap the city’s family-oriented safe parking pilot program at the Seven Trees Community Center, citing concerns about safety, a lack of participation and trash onsite.

“We have the capacity to serve 17 cars or RVs each night. However, during its entire operation, we’ve never been able to reach the full capacity per night,” said housing director Jacky Morales-Ferrand. “We believe that moving these families into a motel voucher program is the best program to suit their ne.”

Now, the lawmakers are agreeing with housing officials in moving the 17 families currently at the site into a motel voucher program, while potentially looking for an alternative site for an adults-only parking program. At the request of Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Sergio Jimenez, a potential site for a daytime parking program will also be studied. They also propose beefing up law enforcement against hazardous waste and illegal dumping at the site during the transitionary process.

Housing officials said they will circle back with the City Council in two to three months.

Housing officials who originally praised the program for its success agreed with Councilmember Maya Esparza–the lawmaker who represents the neighborhood the site is in– when she voiced concern about safety and a lack of participation. In their findings, they cited several challenges that many of the families raised including a lack of access to laundry, cooking facilities, and having to leave early during the day because the program only allowed for overnight parking.

A San José Spotlight report in January found very few cars parked at the vacant lot, though officials envisioned helping up to 17 homeless families to sleep safely in their cars. According to housing officials, there are 6,172 homeless people in San Jose and more than 1,000 of them live in their vehicles.

Esparza, noting that only four to seven families stay there on average per night, suggested the families be transitioned to a motel voucher program. Esparza also said she didn’t want her opposition to the Seven Trees site to be “mischaracterized,” adding that city officials find another site for the potential adults-only parking, possibly at a different location in her district such as the Leininger Center through a private-public partnership.

“But I’ve come to the conclusion that private operators know what they’re doing because they’ve been doing this for a few years,” said Esparza. “I’m not sure that this is something that the city should be in the business of doing.”

The program, operated by the nonprofit LifeMoves, provides homeless families living in their cars services and a safe place to park overnight. Services such as “light snacks, clothing, blankets, access to bathrooms, showers and onsite security” are provided, according to the nonprofit’s website. Seven Trees Community Center was the first site of the safe parking program, which has since expanded to two other locations at Roosevelt and South Side community centers.

Morales-Ferrand said program participants could only be admitted on a referral basis and were extensively screened, given the on-site case management and support services provided. 

About 689 families were initially contacted to participate in the program, but only 58 families were enrolled, which included 107 children. Morales-Ferrand added that many families who were initially contacted refused because they would rather park with friends or family, thought the site was inconvenient, or would rather participate in a motel voucher program. In addition, many neighbors complained about RVs unaffiliated with the program crowding up the streets, bringing trash and waste into the neighborhood. 

“The program is out of control,” said neighborhood resident Alexander Gonzalez. “RVs and cars in the program don’t leave the parking lot, there’s trash everywhere, and this is a community with many families. My neighborhood is not okay with that and no other neighbors have to put up with it.”

Still, housing officials said the program offered families a wide range of flexibility and security. 79 percent of the families who left the program were transitioned into either shelter or housing

But despite the support LifeMoves has given families, many council members agreed that the program posed more challenges than successes and that its failure was a “learning lesson.”

“There’s certainly lessons learned here,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “We need to do everything we can to address the trash, illegal dumping, code enforcement ne, legal parking, and all the other ne that the surrounding community might have so that they understand clearly that their homeless neighbors are not causing those problems.”

Councilmember Dev Davis added to that sentiment by stating that the quality of life has to be improved in the neighborhoods that these kinds of programs are implemented in. Councilmember Sylvia Arenas said that the city ne to be adding more solutions and cannot afford to be “taking them away,” in the midst of the housing crisis.

“We have to win the hearts and minds of all the residents on this issue—homelessness,” added Davis. “We have to improve the quality of life in those neighborhoods that have those projects, because all of our residents are watching every time we do this. Every time we don’t get it right, is another strike against us. We can’t get this wrong again.” 

Forgivable loan program for granny units 

San Jose lawmakers on Tuesday dropped a hefty $5 million forgivable loan program aimed at streamlining the construction of “granny units,” also called accessory dwelling units (ADUs), after housing officials cited concerns that the program may not meet its initial production goals.

City officials also discussed the potential passage of SB 13, the statewide bill that if adopted, will lower development impact fees and ease restrictions for homeowners interested in building ADUs. It’s unclear when the proposal will be brought back to City Council, but some city leaders estimated the item will be brought back in a few weeks after the results of SB 13.

“The forgivable loan program creates opportunities for moderate income households, however it may not meet the additional goal of jump starting the production of Accessory Dwelling Units,” said Morales-Ferrand. “The California Legislature is still moving forward Senate Bill 13… which provides a tiered schedule of impact fees based on the size of ADUs. Therefore, staff ne additional time to work with Housing Trust Silicon Valley to review the program design to determine if both objectives, incentivizing and providing moderate income housing can be met, and the results of SB 13.”

City housing officials plan on partnering with the Housing Trust of Silicon Valley to provide up to 200 homeowners with $20,000 in forgivable loans to cover “planning, permit and other pre-development soft costs” for a granny unit. Certain city fees, such as park impact fees and business taxes, will also be waived as an extra incentive for homeowners who are thinking about constructing the backyard cottages, which some leaders say could help alleviate the valley’s crippling housing shortage.

In order to help solve the region’s raging housing crisis, the loan will become forgivable after a tenant has been living in the unit for more than five years. Homeowners would be required to advertise the unit as a rental listing and to offer a one-year lease. Annual rent increases will not exceed five percent per year to increase the pool of prospective tenants.

“Accessory dwelling units represent a great untapped potential in the city of San Jose for many homeowners to join us personally in addressing our housing crisis,” Liccardo and Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Pam Foley wrote in a joint memo. “The city estimates that more than 120,000 backyards in our communities have the space to accommodate an ADU. While we have said that we want to be welcoming to ADUs in our city, our actions must speak louder than our words.”

As part of a string of measures, lawmakers are trying to make it easier for homeowners to build granny units by reducing costs and easing the lengthy permitting process. Earlier this month, the city rolled out a program called “ADU Tuesdays” — which includes dedicated planning appointments and a priority application submittal process on that day.

The appointments allow homeowners to meet with city officials to get “immediate feedback and potential approval for a building permit,” Morales-Ferrand said. “The second service opens a “dedicated submission lane” at the permit center for  ADU applicants.

“The dedicated intake staff member will conduct a thorough review to provide immediate comments on mistakes in applications that will allow customers to fix their mistakes earlier and prevent wasteful, incomplete reviews by plan check staff,” added Morales-Ferrand.

The goal is to expedite housing production in the city in an effort to build at least 25,000 units — 10,000 of them affordable — by 2022.

Contact Nadia Lopez at nadia@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.