San Jose opens first affordable housing complex for the homeless

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- After many years of planning and construction, community leaders celebrated the grand opening of Second Street Studios, San Jose's first affordable housing development strictly reserved for the formerly homeless.

"I've got (my) dignity back-- I've got self-worth," said Michael Eckhart, who was homeless for more than a decade before moving in to the complex. "I feel like I'm a part of the community and not a burden to the community."

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Funded mainly by the city and the state, the $59.25 million project was developed by First Community Housing, using a 'housing first' philosophy. Many cities treat homelessness with temporary fixes like short-term shelters or encampments, but this complex provides a permanent home for 155 of the area's most vulnerable residents.

"When you start meeting the people that live here... they're intelligent, they're resourceful, they represent all walks of life," said Geoffrey Morgan, First Community Housing CEO. "They just needed the opportunity to recover and come back."

After living on the streets for nearly 12 years, Marine Corps veteran Ralph Duran was one of the first people to move into a unit.

"Sometimes you just want to give up, but then you think, tomorrow might bring a different outcome," said Duran. "Enough of those days of believing in yourself and believing in mankind... and it happened."

Deeply affordable rents, subsidized by the county housing authority, are combined with support services, including a full-time on-site nurse, harm reduction specialists, and case managers to help connect residents with essential resources.

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"This is the first permanent supportive housing project we've been able to get built," said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. "We've got 13 others in the pipeline or under construction, and we're going to finally be able to tackle this great challenge."

Destination: Home also played a key role in the project by bridging public and private resources. Second Street Studios was one of the first affordable housing developments to receive funding from the organization's Supportive Housing and Innovation Fund, which was seeded by a $50 million gift from Cisco.

"There's thousands of people still out on the streets," said Ray Bramson, chief impact officer for Destination: Home. "We need to make sure that we're coming together as a community to support more of this housing, because it's not just good for the people that get into their homes, and it's good for all of us as a whole."

First Community Housing has partnered with Adobe Services to staff on-site support workers for residents. The John Stewart Company is managing the property.

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"I'm not just surviving, I'm living, and I hope to live my dreams," said Eckhart.

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