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San Jose Fire Sheds Light On Skyrocketing Living Costs

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Home video of a house fire on Othello Avenue in San Jose on February 17, 2014. (CBS)

Home video of a house fire on Othello Avenue in San Jose on February 17, 2014. (CBS)

Len-Ramirez_BIO-HEAD Len Ramirez
San Jose native Len Ramirez has been a news reporter for KPIX 5...
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SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – A fire at a San Jose home that was converted into a multi-family residence Monday has displaced 15 people. Experts said the fire exposes a dangerous trend tied to the city’s rising cost of living, among the highest in the nation.

Flames erupted in the home on Othello Avenue on Monday evening. Cellphone video showed an out-of-control fireball, something Capt. Cleo Doss of the San Jose Fire Department called a nightmare scenario.

“The biggest nightmare is missing someone,” Doss told KPIX 5.

According to Doss, 10 of the 15 residents were inside at the time of the fire. “When there’s so many people in a home it makes it very difficult to account for everyone in there,” he said.

One pet dog was lost in the fire, but everyone else was able to get out safely.

The unusually dangerous situation for firefighters is becoming more common in San Jose, one of the least affordable places to live in the U.S.

“I think this is probably the worst I’ve seen it, and I’ve been involved in legal aid since 1989,” housing attorney Guy Caputo said, describing a trend caused by rising rents and a shortage of affordable housing.

Caputo estimates about 10 percent of the homes in San Jose have been converted into multiple family living spaces, and he says the number of people living in a home is going up.

“Fifteen wouldn’t be unusual and sometimes as many as 20 in a three bedroom,” Caputo said.

At least those homes started out that size. The home that burned on Othello Avenue was originally a three-bedroom. A listing on the real estate site Zillow on Tuesday listed the home as a seven-bedroom.

Neighbors said it’s becoming common to see multiple cars parked in driveways and lawns. “I’m sure it’s not too comfortable for a whole bunch of people like that to have to live in one house. It’s a very sad situation,” said neighbor Regina Braimah.

According to the city’s Code Enforcement division, the house was permitted to have six bedrooms.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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