When David Tripp moved to the Winchester Ranch mobile home community in the mid-1970s, it was only dirt. In the decades that followed, he watched it develop into one of San Jose’s most popular senior communities, with lush gardens, manicured yards and rows of small, colorful homes. But now Tripp and Winchester Ranch’s other 145 residents are fighting to stay there.
West San Jose has become one of the city’s hottest real estate markets, and rising property values have developers eyeing Winchester Ranch. “What you see in the area there is just an increase in property values,” said City Councilman Pete Constant. “That creates an environment where you have a piece of land that has appreciated at a far higher rate than any other mobile home park in the area.”
The landowner, Cali-Arioto Properties, revealed last year that it wants to sell the land to developer Pulte Homes. Residents of the park don’t want to leave, but they might not have a choice. Even though they own their homes, Winchester Ranch residents rent the land on which they stand. That puts them in a vulnerable position, but they haven’t given up hope.
San Jose contains almost 60 mobile home communities, and the city has a mobile-home-park conversion ordinance on the books that governs how landowners can close and redevelop them. The ordinance has never been used, but it requires landowners to compensate residents if they close the park. The owners would also have to provide relocation and rental assistance to residents.
When Winchester Ranch residents learned about Cali-Arioto’s plan to sell, they formed a homeowners association in hopes of buying the property themselves. That, too, is covered by the ordinance: The law says that residents must be given an opportunity to make an offer on the property and negotiate with the owner. But Cali-Arioto will not be required to sell the property to the residents.
James Zahradka, an attorney with the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, a community legal services agency, notes that more than 185 mobile home parks across California have converted to residential ownership in the past 40 years. But he acknowledges none of them was located a stone’s throw from one of the state’s hottest retail markets and that Winchester Ranch residents probably won’t be able to match Pulte’s offer.
Margaret Ecker Nanda, an attorney representing Cali-Arioto, said she sympathizes with the residents and that they will be adequately compensated for being relocated. “I totally understand the reluctance and frustration of people that they have to move. But the ordinance provides protections for the residents.”
Even if residents are compensated for their homes, shutting down Winchester Ranch could have lasting impacts. “This type of housing is one of the only non-subsidized forms of affordable housing that’s out there, particularly where the residents have an ownership interest of any kind,” the Law Foundation’s Zahradka says.
He points out that there are intangible costs associated with evicting more than 100 seniors from their homes. “I don’t know if you can value reputational risk, but if I’m Pulte Homes, I don’t know if I want to be seen as a company that’s relocating hundreds of seniors.”
For his part, Constant sounds pretty certain that Winchester Ranch will be sold. The city can’t do anything about that, but it does have a say on whether the property is rezoned for a higher-density development. “(The residents) have been begging me to stop the sale,” said Constant. “But legally and morally, that’s not the city’s role.”
The landowner hasn’t filed a development application with the city yet, and for now residents and city officials are waiting to see what happens next. “San Jose has a lot of mobile homes, so we’re not only being vigilant about this park, but it may have implications for other mobile home parks,” said Laurel Prevetti, the city’s assistant director of planning.
Part of what makes Winchester Ranch so appealing to seniors is that residents are able to modify their homes for special needs. David Tripp, like several of his neighbors, is disabled. He suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and he’s in remission from lupus, leukemia, fibromyalgia and neuropathy. He isn’t very steady on his feet, and after falling down several times, he and his wife decided to modify the front steps to to their home last year. Finding comparable replacement housing in the area will be a challenge.
“By the grace of God, we’re not going to end up in the poorhouse, but we’re not going to have anything near as nice as this.”