Silicon Valley philanthropist provides land to build tiny homes for San Jose's homeless

Dustin Dorsey Image
Thursday, October 19, 2023
SJ to lease private land for $1 a year to build tiny home community
San Jose will lease The Sobrato Organization's private land for $1 a year to build a 150-bed tiny home community for the unhoused.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- A Silicon Valley billionaire and philanthropist is providing land to the city of San Jose at almost no cost to build tiny homes that will help get people off the streets.

Real-estate developer John A. Sobrato and The Sobrato Organization are leasing the land to the city for $1 a year for at least five years.

The San Jose City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved the five-year land lease to build 150 beds of emergency interim housing on the site.

The Sobrato family noted that this project is one of many the organization is working on to provide more affordable housing in the region.

In a statement, John's son, John M. Sobrato said:

"My father's offer on behalf of the Sobrato Family Foundation of a five-year no-cost lease of the property on Via del Oro for interim housing, is an admirable effort to help one of San Jose's most vulnerable populations. It complements The Sobrato Organization's broader Housing Security Initiative, a pilot program to address housing insecurity in Silicon Valley through a three-pronged approach that includes preservation, production, and pro-housing policy."

San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan is equally excited for the opportunity.

"What this would do is open up private land to be part of the solution to homelessness," Mahan said. "That's not what we have done. All of our sites today are on publicly owned land, city owned land, VTA land, Caltrans land and this is a potential game changer."

New village of tiny homes will house 160 homeless in Sun Valley

A new village of 160 tiny homes will help house the homeless in Sun Valley.

The units will feature many of the amenities as other tiny home projects, but they will be solar-powered with limited hookups to allow them to be moved off site when the lease is up. There will still be private bathrooms, but in a group setting and not attached to the unit like other tiny homes.

Mahan says the average stay for residents in similar units is six to nine months, with more than 50% moving to permanent housing.

So, he says 1,500 people could be housed here over five years.

"It's creating a pipeline out of homelessness to combat the pipeline into homelessness that is far too common in our community today," Mayor Mahan said.

Some residents opposed

While the city views this plot of land as an absolute win, the surrounding community is not as happy.

"We have lost trust and are disappointed in our community representative and mayor," local resident Issa Ajlouny said.

Ajlouny says neighbors voiced their disapproval to this plan to their Councilmember Arjun Batra, saying South San Jose already has more tiny homes than other parts of the city.

"Councilmember Batra agreed no more tiny homes in this area and would include this in his memo," Ajlouny said. "The community was also surprised because his memo omitted this because the mayor would not agree. Councilmember Batra then told the community he would ask for a no encampment zone when the city council would vote. He failed the community again when he did not mention this in his motion."

The approved plan would prioritize unhoused residents currently close to the new site when deciding who gets to live on the property.

Councilmember Batra says the council will explore designated no encampment zones near tiny homes in the future.

"Our goal would be to get this new site built, have those encampments which are there nearby, those people who live nearby would move into those things and clear out encampment and hopefully never have another encampment appear in that area," Councilmember Batra said.

Construction is likely to begin in early to mid 2024.