SAN JOSE — In an ironic twist, a new effort by the city of San Jose to provide housing for homeless veterans could send a family packing for another place to stay.
The San Jose City Council approved a $3 million grant a couple of weeks ago to renovate two rundown houses in the Rose Garden area. The city intends to move 16 homeless veterans into those houses with help from the nonprofit group Housing for Independent People once construction is complete.
The Vermont House, as the two city-owned homes at 1072 and 1082 Vermont St. are referred to, once was a residential drug and alcohol rehab facility for low-income people. According to staff memos, the city took ownership of the houses via foreclosure in 2009 when the rehab facility defaulted on its loan.
What remains unclear, however, is the history and nature of the city’s relationship with the family that has been living there for several years. Michael Gonzalez said he and wife Felicia Blanco have lived in the home at 1082 Vermont St. since 2006 or 2007. They were homeless for several years before then, sleeping in their truck when not staying with family.
“I was looking for some work, and I saw some real estate guys out here,” Gonzalez said. “They asked me if I would do some work on this property and I told them, ‘Sure.’ “
Gonzalez said they negotiated a deal in which the couple would look after both homes in exchange for free housing. Among other things, the couple agreed to maintain the houses, do yard work and report trespassers to the police. The arrangement changed in 2010 when there was turnover at the housing department that manages the properties, Gonzalez said.
“At that point they asked us to start paying rent and to stop taking care of this property next door,” Gonzalez said. Since then they have paid a monthly rent of $417 to the city, he added.
Blanco said they had known for several years that the city was trying to sell the houses but were still surprised to learn several months ago they would have to move. She said they initially were told they might have to move by early November but they still have not received an official notice.
“It could be any day,” Blanco said. “Throughout all the years that we’ve been paying rent, they’ve been telling us, ‘Well, somebody’s interested in the homes; you might end up having to move out soon.’ But they never give us an actual date.”
Gonzalez said that since the city authorized funding for the shelters earlier in November, they’ve been told not to worry. But how much time remains for them is uncertain.
“They would probably start working on this house next to us first, to give us enough time to go ahead and finish moving out,” Gonzalez said. “Then they gave me notification that I could call someone in the [housing] department and … that they’d try to help us.”
Housing director Jackie Morales-Ferrand said the arrangement was mutually beneficial but that there always has been an understanding that it wouldn’t be permanent.
“They were getting a great deal and great opportunity for them, and it was good for us for seven years,” Morales-Ferrand said. “It’s not like we just gave them a 30-day notice and said they have to leave. They’ve known for at least two years. This was never considered a permanent residence for them.”
She also said that the city is taking steps to ensure that the couple and their 16-year-old son find another place to live, including assistance with signing up for housing vouchers.
“We have been working with them to try to find them other options for housing, and so once we have a firm date, we would provide that for them,” Morales-Ferrand said.
She said renovation would be the best use of both houses.
“This is a great opportunity to house 16 veterans,” she said. “This is a tremendous opportunity to provide housing for our vets. This couple — we’ll absolutely work with them to find a suitable place where they can transition.”