Nearly 60 parks to be re-designated to slow redevelopment
| By Louis Hansen | Source |
The San Jose City Council has endorsed further protections for all mobile home park residents, as eventual redevelopment has ignited fears of evictions for scores of communities.
The measure tightens planning restrictions on the city’s two most threatened communities — Westwinds and Mountain Springs mobile home parks — and gives the city council greater sway over potential redevelopment. Dozens of mobile home park residents, some in tears, successfully urged councilmembers Tuesday night to extend protections to 56 other parks in San Jose.
The council unanimously directed staff to do further planning work to eventually protect those other parks. The parks already have robust requirements for redevelopment,including multiple city reviews.
“There’s a lot of fear and stress and sleepless nights,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo, adding that he believed extending protections to residents in all parks provided more psychological comfort than legal force. “If this is what gives people a little more peace of mind…then I’m happy to support it,” he said.
The San Jose protections comes as pressure grows to replace or redevelop mobile home parks across the state. Property owners see opportunities for better housing and profits by converting parks into new developments — even when including provisions for affordable homes and buyouts of mobile home owners.
But residents and housing advocates say the parks provide valuable, low-cost homes for workers and retirees while the state wrestles with a widespread housing shortage.
Housing advocates estimate about 35,000 residents live in 11,000 mobile homes throughout the city. Advocates say the parks remain islands of affordable housing in one of the country’s most expensive cities. The median home value in San Jose is $1 million, according to Zillow. The median rent for a two-bedroom in the city now tops $3,000, according to listing site Zumper.
The property owners of Westwinds and Mountain Springs opposed the new designation, saying it would complicate future redevelopment plans.
In January, Westwinds mobile home park owner MHC notified about 1,600 residents they could be evicted by August 2022, when MHC’s long-term lease on the property expires. MHC in a lawsuit accused property owner The Nicholson Family Partnership, or TNFP, of demanding the property be returned free of tenants at the end of the lease.
The partnership denied it wants to displace the tenants, and suggested redevelopment plans would benefit current residents and help the city meet its ambitious goals for new housing.
The council vote initially creates a planning designation, “Mobilehome Park,” for Westwinds and Mountain Springs. The two parks, encompassing more than 100 acres and 870 mobile homes, were zoned for high-density development — making it easier for property owners to turn the communities into high-rise apartments or tightly-packed townhomes and condos.
With the new designation, property owners seeking to redevelop will have to make a new request to the city council to change San Jose’s general plan. Hearings for general plan amendments are typically scheduled once a year.
The new designation, originally considered two years ago, requires additional scrutiny from city planners and elected leaders, and likely slows redevelopment plans. It also adds to existing city protections for mobile home park residents displaced by redevelopment, which include fair market value purchases of homes, and rental and moving assistance.
Bruce Nicholson, co-manager of the partnership, said in a statement on Wednesday the family was disappointed by the vote. But, he added, “we remain interested and willing to engage with the city and residents through a collaborative process to find a fair and equitable way for current residents to remain on the property well beyond the expiration of the landleases in 2022.”
Joseph Vieira, whose family company owns the Mountain Springs property, wrote to the council that the property should not be targeted with Westwinds for the re-zoning while other parks remain untouched. The lease between the family company and park operator expires in 16 years, and the family believes the park must inevitably be redeveloped for more housing, he said.
But dozens of mobile home residents testified Tuesday night they could not afford rent outside the parks, and several warned they would be homeless without their communities.
Westwinds resident Vincent Flores said the administrative costs to extend protections to all parks was worth it. “Protect all mobile home parks in San Jose to prevent catastrophic disruption to all those who live in them,” Flores told the council.
The city estimates it will take up to 18 months and cost about $500,000 in additional staff time and expenses to expand the designation to all parks.