San Jose flood: Struggling residents get a hand from nonprofit

By Eric Kurhi | 


This article was originally published in The Mercury News.

When February’s floodwaters receded from the Golden Wheel Mobile Home Park, Lam Tran, a part-time teacher caring for her disabled husband, didn’t know how they were going to get their home of five years fixed up.

The muddy water ruined the stairs, the ducting, the crawlspace skirting and even her front-yard flower and rock garden. And with her husband Chay Philip Truong, 56, suffering from dementia, Tran didn’t know where to turn.

“It was so scary,” Tran said. “I just worried. I was worried for the flood, and the worry didn’t go away.”

But on Wednesday, Tran’s mobile home was among the first to benefit from charitable efforts of a local nonprofit and Bank of America to help the poorest city residents who were flooded out with the costly repair work needed to restore their homes.

“We’re helping people who don’t have the ability to do the work themselves, or can’t afford to pay someone to do it for them,” said Beverley Jackson of Rebuilding Together Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that does repair work for low-income housing. “We’ve got 40 homes lined up in this park that we’re going to fix. Mobile homes are the last affordable housing there is in Silicon Valley.”

As of Wednesday, 39 buildings throughout the city remained so damaged from the flood that they were unfit for habitation, down from more than 1,300 back in February. San Jose spokeswoman Cheryl Wessling said most of those have a property owner who has not been in contact with the city.

“Property owners have to take certain actions like have a damage survey done, and the city is here to help get the property moved out of yellow-tag status,” Wessling said. “But we need the property owners to work with us.”

Jackson said those receiving help from Rebuilding Together are all low-income homeowners who didn’t have flood insurance. She couldn’t estimate the total cost of the repairs. But she said the effort got a big boost from donated labor — in this case from Bank of America, which also put in $15,000 specifically for the residents of Golden Wheel.

Golden Wheel Park manager Erin McGuire said about 150 of the 221 units at the park suffered some sort of damage, and Tran’s is in one of the hardest-hit areas.

“A lot of people were able to just let it dry out underneath, many people did what repairs they needed themselves,” McGuire said. “But some were pretty bad.”

The flood forced evacuations of hundreds of residents when Coyote Creek spilled its banks after a series of storms, and many were unable to return for weeks.

HomeFirst, which operated an emergency shelter for the city at Seven Trees Community Center for residents unable to return home, closed it down on Monday. Spokeswoman Stephanie Demos said the final night had only a single man, down from four on Saturday night and nine on Friday.

All told, the shelter served 197 people since the flood with most moving into temporary housing since then — motels, family or friends, some banding together and finding an apartment in a cheaper area out of the county.

“It was a very bittersweet closing,” Demos said. “There were people here that we just made deep connections with.” She said the population was largely from the Vietnamese community.

Wessling said many owners of flood-damaged property do not live in the area, and have not responded to attempts to contact them. She said that was surprising, given the Silicon Valley real estate market.

“You would think they would want them anything but sitting vacant in disrepair,” Wessling said.

Back at the Golden Wheel, Tran watched volunteers from the bank lay down a layer of shiny white marble rocks around a flowery front yard centerpiece, barely containing her excitement, giving the workers juice and donuts and flurries of “thank you’s.”

“It’s the little things like the flowers that are important,” said Jackson of Rebuilding Together. “Part of the work is about making the home safe. But it’s also about what makes a person’s heart feel good.”


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