This poses a range of issues for local governments as they seek to maintain the health, safety, and wellbeing of their residents. The tiny homes concept (if done right) provides safety, privacy and basic amenities to more of those who avoid the shelter system and bring hope when looking at alternative methods to help transition to permanent housing.
This story will not cover every attempt to build a “tiny home village”, address the larger housing crisis impacting permanent placement of those suffering from homelessness, or attempt to assess the myriad of factors leading to homelessness in our communities. That said, it will hopefully offer some insight into a few projects underway to both bring awareness to the issue (and some potential solutions), while also inspiring local governments to think outside of the box when it comes to managing the immediate needs of the growing homeless population in our cities.
Ultimately, there are options for those willing to take advantage of partnerships and good old fashion interdepartmental and intergovernmental cooperation to make it happen. Easier said than done, but here are a few who have muscled through to deliver positive results.
Veterans Community Project sets sights on solving veteran homelessness
The Veterans Community Project (VCP), born out of Kansas City, MO, offers tiny homes and support services to veterans - a first of its kind model for addressing veteran homelessness.
These small homes provide safety, privacy and basic amenities at no cost to its residents while they work to transition to permanent housing. They also address the obstacle of pet bans at homeless shelters, by allowing their residents to bring along their pets.
Co-founder of VCP, Bryan Meyer credits the public-private partnership with Kansas City which provided permits, sold the land at a discount and helped plumb the land to accommodate 50 units. Mayor Sly James praises VCP as “one of the best things that has happened during the time I’ve been Mayor” and urges other local governments, states and nations to take advantage of this program. With VCP Village completed and a community center underway, VCP is now expanding with a national effort led by Jason Kander - with the goal of serving 8 communities by 2022. Veterans Community Project heads to Longmont, Colorado next, where a 26 tiny home village will be constructed. Other communities are taking steps to address the wider issue of homelessness with the tiny house concept, although they depict a slightly different story with unforeseen delays and have caught some bad press. We don’t share this to discourage you, but to introduce other implementations that can be learned from and improved upon when attempting to deploy such an initiative in your community.
Seattle City Council expands tiny house villages in response to continued state of emergency on homelessness
The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is one of the largest providers of Tiny House Village shelters in the nation and is the City of Seattle’s sole provider of tiny house villages with 9 City-supported villages across Seattle.
Seattle’s Human Services Department notes the cost effectiveness of these tiny house villages: “Spaces in tiny home villages represent approximately 12.5% of all shelter beds and safe places the City supports and make up less than 3% of all homelessness response investments made by the City of Seattle.”
The City's involvement in providing alternative housing and accommodating encampments is not without growing pains. Here are a few takeaways:
San Jose delivers 40 tiny houses with plans to expand, despite delays
In the epicenter of the affordable housing crisis, San Jose, CA opened a 40 structure community of tiny houses in February 2020. The Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) site was leased by the City and construction efforts led largely by Habitat for Humanity.
There is a second project planned for 40 additional tiny homes at a nearby Caltrans site. Residents in San Jose will be required to pay 10 percent of their income — or $20 if they’re not employed — for the first six months with rent increases after this, up to 30 percent.
Mayor Sam Liccardo has championed the tiny home projects and feels strongly that this solution is a good one to address short term, immediate needs of those suffering from homelessness in his community. “We know that this is just a small piece of a larger set of possible solutions, but it is a very important one.”
Honolulu takes a different approach with a long-term, affordable housing solution with community at its center
The City & County of Honolulu has partnered with the State of Hawaii and the aio Foundation to develop a long term solution - Kahauiki Village, which is focused not only on providing permanent low-cost housing for homeless families, but a community offering stability, resources and support.
The Village offers job support or job placement and on premise daycare and preschool. This project differs in that the Village offers larger-style 1-2 bedroom units, aimed at serving families and provides permanent low-cost housing to these families as opposed to programs offering transitional or temporary housing.
While the level of government involvement ranges in these projects covered, each demonstrates what can be accomplished when local government works with the community and private partners toward a common goal.
By offering support, whether that be streamlined permitting, easier access to land, zoning modifications, infrastructure, or helping foster citizen engagement, local governments are able to address this crisis impacting an increasing number of cities and counties in creative ways and by leveraging partnerships with organizations on a mission for change.
We see firsthand the power of public/private partnerships and what’s possible when we work together for good.