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Local governments experimenting with tiny houses to tackle homelessness

Local governments from Kansas City, MO to Honolulu, HI are taking steps through public-private partnerships to meet the needs of the growing homeless population in their cities.

HomelessnessLow-income HousingPublic Private Partnership (PPP)
HH

Honolulu, HI

United States

SJ

San Jose, CA

United States

SW

Seattle, WA

United States

KC

Kansas City, MO

United States

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Newsworthy

San Jose: Tiny homes delayed amid site negotiations

Complications with a Caltrans site mean homeless residents hoping to move into tiny homes soon will have to wait.

The Mercury News

San Jose opens first tiny home community for homeless

San Jose has welcomed 40 formerly homeless residents to move into tiny homes on a Valley Transportation Authority lot.

The Mercury News

Seattle council raises cap on sanctioned homeless camps, tiny home villages

Seattle City Council voted Tuesday to increase the allotment on sanctioned homeless encampments and tiny home villages.

MyNorthwest.com

Highlights
  • Over half a million people go homeless on a single night in the United States and the growing affordable housing crisis is turning homelessness into a reality for more and more cities.

  • With nearly 27% of homeless living in California, this is a widely searched topic among our participating California governments, trailed by New York, Texas and Washington.

  • While an estimated 65% of those suffering from homelessness can be found in shelters, the remaining 35% are unsheltered, living in places like sidewalks, parks, cars, or abandoned buildings.

Summary

Over half a million people go homeless on a single night in the United States and the growing affordable housing crisis is turning homelessness into a reality for more and more cities. With nearly 27% of homeless living in California, this is a widely searched topic among our participating California governments, trailed by New York, Texas and Washington.
The concept of tiny houses as a more effective form of transitional housing is not new, but has been gaining more traction as a viable option for local governments looking to address this issue. While an estimated 65% of those suffering from homelessness can be found in shelters, the remaining 35% are unsheltered, living in places like sidewalks, parks, cars, or abandoned buildings. More often than not, avoiding the shelters is by choice.
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 City Council voted in February 2020 to allow the continuation of the existing tiny house villages and to permit up to 40 tiny house villages throughout the city. The ordinance also limits zoning restrictions, allows annual renewals, and allows encampments remain indefinitely.
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.”
With roughly one third of tiny house residents being placed in permanent housing in 2018, coupled with the cost effectiveness of the tiny house villages, this could be a good solution for alternative temporary housing.
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.

Takeaways

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.

Discussion

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LP

Lindsay Pica

Co-founder at Govlaunch

AUTHOR

Status

In Progress

Resources

Veterans Community Project (VCP)

Seattle Tiny House Village Ordinance

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