(Tiny) Housing the Homeless Some people want to end homelessness by building tiny, compact houses, but not everyone thinks it's a good idea


Unit: When talking about housing, a unit refers to a single home, rather than, say, a group of homes or an apartment building.

Crowdfunding: This is the practice of collecting small amounts of money from each individual in a large group to get money to a person/organization that needs it. Crowdfunding is possible in recent years due to the connectivity offered by the Internet, especially social media.

Codes/Ordinances: A building code is the set of rules about how houses (or any building) can be built. A zoning ordinance usually refers to where houses can be built--how close to each other or businesses.

Shelter: When talking about the homeless, a shelter refers place that offers temporary housing often on a night-to-night basis.


Whereas a tiny home can offer shelter and stability, temporary homeless shelters are often avoided by homeless people because of the danger they might pose. In fact, on a recent night in Los Angeles, one shelter was only at 64% capacity, as many homeless want to avoid the harmful activities that can occur at these shelters, according to Gale Holland from the Los Angeles Times. Shelters can lack any kind of community goodwill, but a group of tiny houses might inspire in a homeless community to look after each other. Often, people used to living in isolation and fear can become quite neighborly. “But what you’re actually seeing is that it’s an inherently collaborative culture; they’re in proximity and they’re working and helping each other,” says Matt Lakeman, a Portland architect and activist. Building neighborhoods and keeping people safe may sound like a no-brainer, but building these houses, rather than using existing shelters, come with additional costs.


These tiny houses cost less than 10,000 dollars per home and provide many basic comforts. Savannah, Georgia is one community using the model of tiny houses to help the homeless. Savannah Morning News reported that these units would have several amenities including a built-in bed, a shower stall with hot and cold running water, a toilet, two sinks, a refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot and hot plate and would cost 6,900 dollars per unit. Similar units have been built around the country in places like Olympia, Washington. According Narrative.ly these units there were paid for by a combination federal grants, as well as state and county grants, as well as donations by the community. Others, like Elvis Summers’ in Los Angeles have used crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to raise money to make these tiny house communities a reality. Ultimately though, raising the money to build these homes is only one of many hurdles.


The laws surrounding tiny houses vary based on where they are being built, but are primarily focused around building codes and zoning ordinances. One example of these laws are the the International Residential Code provides common standards for construction in several cities. These construction guidelines require houses that are attached to a permanent foundation to provide at a minimum of 750 to 1000 square feet of living space compared to the 100 to 400 square feet in the in the average tiny house. Still there are several ways that that some cities are trying to work around these laws. One of these ways has been to attach wheels to these houses which allows them to be classified as recreational vehicles and therefore not subject to these square footage requirements. Other cities, like Decatur, have passed laws changing these requirements for a minimum square footage. Angela Threadgill, Decatur’s Planning Director explained that “creating zoning codes to allow different housing opportunities, such as micro housing/tiny houses, is one way to return demographics to the diversity the city once had. " She cites this one reason for Decatur passing the Unified Development Ordinance, which removed all requirements of square footage on homes. Still, these building codes are only one sort legal obstacle that tiny houses face. The issue of where these houses can be built is as much of challenge as how they are built. An example of this is in LA where city councilman Price has pointed out that people have these houses church lots, or in other private spaces. But even these locations have been met with resistance as people in those communities have fought to prevent homeless communities of tiny houses to be built near them.


While the people near these homeless communities do not oppose the homeless themselves, they concerned about the disruption these communities might cause. These disruptions are often a result of the same factors that may lead to these individuals’ homelessness in the first place. A recent survey amongst Indiana’s homeless revealed many of these issues. Of the 5,863 people without a home who were surveyed, many suffered from mental illness, substance abuse or had been victims of domestic violence and nearly 800 were veterans. As a result, some people who live near these communities have had unpleasant encounters with their homeless neighbors. For example, Sally Miller who lives near the Port Hope community in Delaware explains, "It's really the noise and harassment from these folks. There are cars in and out of the parking lot at all hours of the night and people walking around the neighborhood. We just don't feel safe." Other times it is not about safety, but simply about the way these homes are may be maintained. Narrative.ly recounts an example from Dignity Villiage in Portland, Oregon where a couple engaged in extreme hoarding including storing bottles filled with urine. These concerns beg the question if tiny houses really are a viable solution.

Are Tiny Houses a Solution for Homelessness?

Tiny house offer benefits to both the homeless and the state and local governments, but they may not represent a permanent solution. One of the most outspoken opponents to Tiny Houses is the mayor of Los Angeles Eric Garcetti, who believes these tiny homes do not represent a permanent solution. Spokeswoman for the mayor, Connie Llanos explained, "The mayor is focused on providing permanent supportive housing that gets people off the streets for good." Despite the fact that some see these tiny homes as being only temporary, the results are hard to argue with. Salt Lake City, Utah adopted this concept of tiny houses for the homeless and since 2005 they have been able to reduce their chronic homeless population by 72 percent. Providing housing in this way has had unexpected benefits for Salt Lake City. Right now, it is estimated that it cost nearly 12,000 dollars to house one person, rather than the 20,000 dollars each year Salt Lake City officials estimate that it would cost taxpayers for jail time, medicals services, and emergency room visits.

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