America leads the developed world in the number of homeless women and children. Though the White House has attempted to take steps to end homelessness among families with children and youth by 2020, disagreements over how to end homelessness and who’s going to pay for it has slowed efforts. Out of the gridlock, many community organizations have taken it upon themselves to come up with their own solution: Tiny Homes.
Tiny homes are the newest trend for those who are financially (and environmentally) conscious. In the media they are often portrayed as great for people who wish to downsize, live more affordably, or spend their time traveling. But as homelessness and the average cost of rent increases, could these tiny homes also be a cost effective option for communities to shelter the homeless? Many cities across America seem to think it’s an option worth pursuing.
Cities Attempt to Tackle Homelessness
From Nashville to Los Angeles, philanthropic organizations and individuals are establishing tiny home communities for the homeless. While a Vanderbilt study cited housing-vouchers as the best solution for cost-effective and stable housing, not-for-profits and individuals are doing what they can for the homeless in their communities’ by using donations to build the tiny homes.
Many governments criminalize activities that are common for homeless individuals, such as loitering or sleeping in public places, leading them to time in jail. Incarceration costs taxpayers $34,480 per inmate per year. A homeless person costs taxpayers $40,000 per year. The construction of a tiny home can cost anywhere from $100 to $10,000 – significantly less money than what taxpayers are currently paying and less than it would cost to put them in an apartment-style building.
Is it a sustainable idea though? In Los Angeles County, where 30,000 people sleep on the street, city officials recently seized several tiny homes due to health and safety concerns. While the tiny homes were ultimately returned and placed on a church lot in Compton, the city is not committed to the idea of using city land for these communities. It’s new territory for cities and communities are forming different ways to organize and sustain the movement.
Tenants Pay Affordable Rent
In Portland, Oregon, 57 percent of the population is unable to afford housing and 44 percent of the median income is needed to afford a modest one bedroom apartment.
Dignity Village, a tiny house neighborhood in Portland, charges tenants $200 for rent and $25 for utilities each month, while tenants are building equity over time. Rent is considered affordable if it is less than 30 percent of a household’s income. If a tenant is working a full time job at the federal minimum wage ($7.25), they are making $1,160 per month. This means that their monthly rent and utilities is less than thirty percent of their income.
Residents Help Pay for Operating Costs
Residents of Emerald Village Eugene are not considered renters, but rather members of a housing cooperative. They each have a share of ownership of the village so they can create a small asset that can be cashed out if they choose to leave. They make monthly payments to cover operating costs that range from $200 to $300. Each household accumulates a share of $1,500 that is paid over a thirty month period. The village also offers tenure to very low income individuals, as long as they follow the community’s agreements.
Residents Govern the Community
Second Wind Cottages is a tiny house village in Newfield, New York – an area with alarmingly high rates of homelessness. The residents share a common space with showers, laundry machines, a kitchen area, and a garden. By sharing these amenities, the project is more affordable and helps form a community. The residents are self-governed and have formed rules, which include prohibiting alcohol and illegal drugs, requiring members to do weekly service hours, and attending weekly meetings to discuss issues and concerns the residents have.
As the rates of homelessness continue to increase, more and more communities may turn to this cost effective option that can help permanently decrease homelessness in their community and provide a safe shelter and fresh start for many individuals in the community.