One writer explores how villages of tiny houses can address problems of homelessness in American cities:
Tiny-home villages for the homeless have retained the idea of everyone having their own tiny structure to sleep and find privacy in, but have, for the most part, consolidated bathroom, kitchen, and recreational space into one or two communal buildings with some combination of plumbing, electricity, and heat. In many ways, they are a multi-roof version of the old-fashioned urban SRO (single-room occupancy) hotel or boarding house, with separate bedrooms but shared baths and kitchen, that provided the working and nonworking poor with affordable living options in so many cities before gentrification turned those properties into boutique hotels or market-rate apartments…
In this regard, they may be solutions that not only alleviate homelessness, but also prevent it by creating more affordable housing. They provide an option below the lowest rungs of market rent, which in cities such as Portland and Eugene can start around $700. In the gap between such rents and low-income units (such as those subsidized by the federal Section 8 program), for which there are often long waits, homeless people often have no options except for shelters — which afford no privacy and, more vexingly, usually kick people out between early morning and late afternoon — or the streets…
They may sound prefab, but tiny-home villages, governed and operated at least in part by the villagers themselves, offer a modicum of safety, stability, warmth, cleanliness, autonomy, and privacy. The feds “have very high standards for [traditional] affordable housing and it’s quite expensive,” said Kitty Piercy, Eugene’s mayor, “so Opportunity and Emerald are ways for us to be able to help some people at a much-reduced cost.”
Add to that reduced fear and stress on the part of residents. “I don’t wanna live here forever,” I was told on a visit to Opportunity Village by a wiry, sweet-natured, 42-year-old recovering alcoholic who goes by the name Johnny Awesome. He was building a small greenhouse onto the front of his cheerful blue cottage, festooned with colored flags and a small disco ball. “This isn’t the top rung of society,” he said. “And the weather dictates a typical day here too much.” Sunny days found residents outside, gardening and building; rainy and cold ones found them holed up in their cottages or congregating in the 30-foot-diameter communal yurt containing computers with Wi-Fi, a large-screen TV, and a pantry.
As the overview goes on to note, this may not just be an issue of being able to build some tiny houses and forming a community. Rather, such villages raise larger questions that cities need to address. Are they willing to let some profitable land be used for such purposes? Where might they allow zoning for such villages? Are cities truly committed to affordable housing? Are cities willing to address the complex issues of homelessness rather than simply trying to regulate or legislate homeless people away? These are not easy questions for cities to answer as they all feel the need for more revenue and exciting new developments. Tiny house villages might be effective ways to address homelessness but they come with an opportunity cost of the land not being used for something else.
I wonder if there is a major city outside of the particular area profiled here – “So far, they seem to be occurring in and around mid- and small-size Western cities whose cultures have some mix of permissive, progressive politics and a certain pioneer DIY spirit” – that would be willing to run an experiment with such a community.
6 thoughts on “Would cities consider tiny house villages to combat homelessness?”
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