SAN JOSE IS breaking ground on a unique transitional housing site that will support hundreds of homeless residents when complete.

Preparation is underway for a three-story, prefabricated modular project on Branham Lane and Monterey Road in the south part of the city. Planning for the site in District 2 began in 2021. It will open in April 2024 with a price tag of about $70 million for construction and operations — $51 million coming from the state, $4 million from Santa Clara County, $5 million from the Sobrato Foundation and $10 million in city dollars.

Once complete, the multi-story structure, pre-built in a factory rather than constructed on site, will be the first of its kind in the state and the largest homeless interim housing site in the city — containing 204 rooms with private bathrooms and the ability to support up to 612 people annually.

City leaders said this particular prefab model is revolutionary because it can be built quicker and at a lower cost than traditional apartment construction. Part of Mayor Matt Mahan’s plan to tackle the city’s growing homeless population is to provide transitional housing sites with supportive services to help unhoused residents move into permanent housing. San Jose already has nearly 400 interim homes that provide supportive services across five different sites.

Mahan said more than 70 percent of people who moved into the city’s transitional housing sites have gone on to receive stable housing.

“For the first time in seven years we saw a decline in both the percentage and absolute number of unsheltered residents in our city,” Mahan said. “The data shows that these solutions are working.”

San Jose officials cite city data that shows calls for police and fire decrease in areas where interim housing sites are built. (Jana Kadah/San Jose Spotlight)

Since 2020, 15,124 people have been placed in temporary shelters. Still, for every person the city houses, 1.7 people fall into homelessness, according to Housing Director Jacky Morales-Ferrand. There are more than 6,500 homeless people currently living in San Jose — and about 4,000 living on the streets, according to a recent count.

Mahan hoped to complete 1,000 interim homes for the unhoused by the end of this year—but that goal won’t be met. Development of these sites often takes more time than originally anticipated, due to factors such as the city needing to secure millions in funding, picking and priming a site to build on and addressing resident pushback.

South San Jose residents in particular have resisted such efforts because they bear a disproportionate amount of interim housing, Morales-Ferrand said. Another site that has faced opposition from residents is the new safe parking area set to open at the VTA Santa Teresa lot.

“Today there are no protests. ... I think largely because they’ve discovered what we’ve discovered at the city — we’re at a crisis level here. We need to do something and doing nothing just isn’t an option anymore.”

Councilmember Sergio Jimenez

District 2 Councilmember Sergio Jimenez is a staunch supporter of interim housing in South San Jose and said the tides are changing in a more positive direction.

“Today there are no protests. Today you don’t see people here complaining with signs saying they don’t want this to happen,” Jimenez said. “I think largely because they’ve discovered what we’ve discovered at the city — we’re at a crisis level here. We need to do something and doing nothing just isn’t an option anymore.”

He said the site will prioritize homeless people living closest to it, eventually helping to reduce the impacts of homelessness in the surrounding area. The building, which is in the middle of a residential area, has plans to be covered in public art to beautify the area.

Once the site opens in April 2024, prolific interim housing operator LifeMoves will provide supportive services and case management on site. LifeMoves operates several sites in San Jose, including Julian Street Inn, The New Haven Inn, The Villa and the Georgia Travis House, among others across Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

“The groundbreaking today stands for more than a literal breaking ground,” LifeMoves CEO Aubrey Merriman said. “It stands for the groundbreaking aspirations of this project, the game changing size and scope, which requires resources, resiliency and the realization that it’s always better to bring our unhoused neighbors inside than having them outside.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

This story originally appeared in San Jose Spotlight.