San Jose's New Construction Boom Threatens to Force Out Senior Citizens

After suffering major declines in new housing development since the 1990s, the last couple of years have been consistently positive for San Jose

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The city of San Jose is experiencing its first strong, consistent new housing streak since the Great Recession cut the pace of new construction activity. But not everyone's happy about it. Stephanie Chuang reports. (Published Tuesday, Jan 21, 2014)

    The cranes and closed roads have become a familiar sight in one major Bay Area city: San Francisco.

    But now you can add another one to the list. The city of San Jose is experiencing its first strong, consistent new housing streak since the Great Recession cut the pace of new construction activity.

    At Highway 85 and Cottle, in South San Jose, construction is under way to replace the old IBM site that’s sat dormant for more than five years. The Village Oaks development boasts 300,000-square-feet of future retail space scheduled to feature Target, Safeway, Panera and Starbucks, plus adjacent new housing. The high-density housing project is set to feature 450 townhomes and single family homes.
    In downtown, there are several high-rise projects under way.

    At the corner of Santa Clara and Market, you’ll see quick progress on the contsruction of a 23-story redevelopment project. “One South Market” is designed as a 23-story glass and steel tower with 312 multi-family units and 6,000 square feet of commercial space.

    Just around the corner, “Centerra” broke ground last fall on Almaden Avenue. The condo high-rise is slated to run up to 21 stories high with nearly 350 units, and 7,000 square feet of retail.

    And KT Properties, the same developer behind “The Axis” high-rise condo building in downtown, is eyeing another one dubbed “Silvery Towers.” It would sit a couple blocks away, north of San Pedro Market Square, replacing a parking lot and empty space. That is in the final phases of city approval. “Silvery Towers” would host more than 640 condos in two buildings, 20- and 22-stories high, a six-level parking garage and up to 20,000 square feet of retail.

    San Jose City Councilman Ash Kalra said the activity means a bright future for San Jose, with investor confidence on the rise.

    “It’s a great sign for San Jose and for our economy because people are willing to invest. The companies that are going to open the stores are willing to invest, the housing developers are willing to invest,” Kalra said. “Everyone’s always clamoring for more restaurants, more stores, and we’re finally going to be able to bring it to them.”

    The city suffered major declines in new housing development a couple times since the 1990s, including a sharp downturn after the dotcom bust. But the worst came after the crash in 2008. In fact, in 2009, the number of new housing units fell 85 percent from the year before.

    The last couple of years have been consistently positive.

    Councilman Sam Liccardo credits a move he pushed for -- along with the mayor -- to slash construction fees, which usually run around $6 million, in half.

    “Within months we saw a boom. We now have two cranes in the air,” Liccardo said. “We expect to see several more in the coming year-and-a-half. By this time next year we should have 2,500 units of housing under construction here in the downtown core.”

    But not everyone is excited about the new developments, especially the luxury housing. In fact, those at the Winchester Ranch Mobile Home Community across the street from Santana Row said they are on the verge of losing the place they’ve called home for decades.

    The owners of the property did not return NBC Bay Area’s multiple requests for comment, but developer Pulte Homes confirmed it was exploring the possibility of buying the land that it said was offered up for sale. A spokesperson said the company would “work closely with individuals and business that may be impacted as the development process moves forward.”

    Marianne Saum, 78, has called the mobile home park her home for nearly 20 years. She said the owner has a right to sell, but she’s hoping it’s to the residents.

    “Then we would keep this piece of Heaven on Earth the way it is. It is, after all, affordable housing for seniors, and there’s very little of that available,” Saum said. “In fact, there’s nothing available where we could move to.”

    According to the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County, which runs the Section Eight program, there were 22,000 people on the waiting list in 2013.

    “It’s been terrifying,” said Dave Johnsen, president of the Winchester Ranch Homeowners Association. “We have a lot of people in their 80’s and 90’s who are, I’m going to say, poverty-level. If this closes, they’ve got nowhere to go.”

    Saum said it’s become partly a generational issue with younger people looking to build and buy luxury and high-end housing in San Jose.

    “Look at your parents, look at your grandparents,” Saum said. “We’re not throwaway people and you don’t want to become a throwaway person.”