The National Alliance to End Homelessness defines what it means to be homeless as “when people or households are unable to acquire and/or maintain housing they can afford.” In the last 25 years the U.S has seen a sharp increase in the rates of homelessness among average Americans, a circumstance that experts in the field are calling a crisis. Those without a place to live no longer include only the “chronically” homeless (people living on the street due to a physical or mental health disability) but now include veterans, women with children, and working families. (Here’s a 2015 report on homelessness in America and this interactive map looks at 25 U.S. Metro areas and the demographics and rates of homelessness in each.)
The two main and interrelated contributors to the homelessness crisis are the increase of poverty and the scarcity of affordable rental housing. Stagnant wages, plummeting incomes and less secure jobs that offer fewer benefits create a situation in which families struggle to survive economically. Families are forced to choose between essentials such as food, shelter, childcare and health care. With housing now costing 30 – 50% of one’s income — thirty years ago it was about 20 – 25% — housing is the first thing to be eliminated since it is the largest chunk of one’s earnings.
As cities grapple with the explosion of homelessness, many are turning to tiny house villages as an appropriate and economically sound solution. Shared resources such as kitchens, laundry and sometimes bathroom and shower facilities eliminate the cost of duplication and the individual homes create a sense of privacy and safety for residents. Psychologically the villages instill a sense of community for people who often feel ostracized or invisible. And having people who rely on social services living in one central location enables agencies a more efficient means of assisting them.
Seven Tiny House Villages for the Homeless
The tiny homes highlighted here are used either as transitional housing (the resident lives in the home until a permanent placement is found) or permanent housing (this is a home a person can reside in indefinitely.) With both types of housing the resident pays rent and utilities, which are subsidized and thus affordable. The last project, Emerald Village, which is still in the development stages, will be structured to enable renters to earn ownership of their tiny house. This is a unique plan that hopes to combat the affordability issue across the rental and homeownership spectrum.
The seven villages mentioned below are more or less “version 1.0” of the projects since most of them have been functioning for three years or less (many just opened this year). The exception is Dignity Village, which opened in its current form in 2004. They serve as a an example of what is possible when the mission of social service agencies, the will of communities and the financial backing of local governments join forces. And many cities are taking notice and considering starting similar communities.
Close to Home looks forward to seeing more villages where tiny living is the big solution. If you know of a project going on in your city, we’d love to hear from you, and we’d love to be of service.
Dignity Village – Portland, OR
Once a tent city back in 2000, Dignity Village, is now a non-profit that is managed and governed by its residents. Between the tiny homes and the warming station, 60 people per night (the city limit) live in the community. Residents help build the homes with donated and recycled materials and are expected to work 10 hours per week in the village. All residents pay $35 per month for rent. Dignity Village is considered a transitional housing community since the city owns the land but residents are fundraising to acquire land so it can be moved to become a permanent community.
Good Shepherd Tiny House Village – Seattle, WA
Here in Close to Home’s hometown city of Seattle, Good Shepherd Tiny House Village opened this year in January in the Central District. The project has 14 tiny homes and was developed in partnership between the Good Shepherd Church (which allowed the use of it’s land), Nickelsville and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). For the designs and build of the tiny homes, LIHI reached out to local community colleges and carpenter training programs along with community volunteers. While most of the houses are for a single person or couples, one home can shelter a family. The village is a transitional housing model with case managers available to help residents find permanent housing elsewhere.
Community First! – Austin, TX
Community First! which opened in early 2016, was spearheaded (and the land was purchased too) by Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF), an organization that for the last 20 years has used food trucks to provide the city’s homeless with food. As the name implies, MLF wanted to insure that the project focus was not just about housing but creating a healing self-sustaining environment. Residents number about 225 and live on twenty-seven acres of land in a community that includes tiny homes, RVs and canvas-sided cottages.
The Sanctuary – Nashville, TN
The Sanctuary is the result of what can happen when one person decides to take on an issue and make a change within his sphere of influence. Jeff Carr, a Nashville based pastor, raised the money himself and built six, 60 sq ft tiny homes on wheels. He put them in the backyard of his church, Green Street Church, pitched some tents for additional housing, and opened the Sanctuary. The residences at the Sanctuary are considered transitional housing with most people on the waiting list for the city’s housing voucher program.
Quixote Village – Olympia, WA
In its earlier incarnation as Camp Quixote, Quixote Village spent many years moving their tiny homes from one church parking lot to another. With the help of Panza, a non-profit organization, Quixote Village finally settled on leased land as a permanent community in 2013. The village boasts a communal vegetable garden and thirty 144 sq ft cottages, each with a front yard. Residents share kitchen, laundry and shower facilities along with large spaces for dining and gathering. Quixote Village is self-governed and residents pay rent and participate in chores.
Opportunity Village Eugene – Eugene, OR
Andrew Heben, author of “Tent City Urbanism” and co-founder of SquareOne Villages (developer of Opportunity Village Eugene) studied tent cities created by homeless people and found that these informal encampments addressed many of the shortfalls of standard government responses to homelessness. He found that tent cities exemplified self-management, democracy, mutual aid and resourcefulness. Opportunity Village Eugene (OVE) was Heben’s “experiment” in formalizing the communal aspects of tent encampments and adding a more secure and livable structure — the tiny house. OVE opened in 2013 and has been a tremendous success. Today it functions as a tiny house transitional community (thirty homes between 60 – 80 sq ft) with shared kitchen, shower and laundry facilities located in communal buildings. Residents pay a $30/month utility fee, volunteer 10 hours per week and attend weekly meetings.
Emerald Village Eugene – Eugene, OR
SquareOne Villages’ current project, Emerald Village Eugene, was conceived when Opportunity Village occupants were faced with the ongoing question — when affordable housing in general is lacking throughout the U.S. but specifically in their city of Eugene — where will people, who are living in transitional housing at Opportunity Village, transition to permanently? Currently in the development phase with a tiny house prototype completed, the plan for Emerald Village Eugene is to offer tiny homes within a community in which low-income residents can earn ownership of their house. The homes will be 150 – 230 sq ft and will include kitchen & bathroom facilities. Larger buildings will house shared laundry, storage and gathering spaces.