Last summer a City Council-appointed committee in Los Angeles ruled that tiny homes are illegal on public or private land in LA and can be destroyed by public works officials. One city councilman went so far as to call them doghouses. Despite that, GoFundMe campaigns by a man named Elvis to build more such homes have raised more than $100,000 in the last 10 months.
The tiny home movement started in LA in the 1990s as a way for people to live simpler lives but it’s now being touted as a way to curb homelessness. These homes typically lack running water and electricity but they offer a roof and place to sleep and store personal items.
Public Works officials in Oakland, where anti-homelessness advocates plan to build homes later this month, have removed tiny homes from off the street. Sidewalks aren’t zoned for “illegal homes made out of illegal garbage.” The little homes weren’t without criticism from the local community as well.
Not everyone wants to make tiny homes illegal. Advocates in some cities are opening tiny home villages. In Austin, a tiny home community was opened to house 200 people, roughly 20 percent of the city’s chronically homeless population. The faith-based community has led the way in Nashville, where Pastor Jeff Carr felt spiritually compelled to put six tiny homes on the property of Green Street Church. A similar village opened on church property in Seattle a few weeks ago.
Each chronically homeless person can cost taxpayers up to $50K a year. The best option for taxpayers and homeless people whose health suffers on the street is to provide free housing. This has been proven by studies across the U.S. for decades. A national study in progress now is finding that vouchers placing people in market-rate homes is the surest way to address homelessness.
These solutions run into another major problem: a lack of housing and affordable housing. An estimated seven million homes would be needed to address affordable housing in the United States, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Some homeless people have described their tiny home as a stability providing shelter that allows them dignity and a sense of normalcy that allows them to get their affairs in order.
It’s a transition step, Seattle tiny home resident Dennis McCrea said, between homelessness and permanent housing, a place to “think about what you have to do to move forward, not where you are going to sleep every night.”
Like giant Legos being used to build structures in Haiti and IKEA homes for refugees, tiny homes are an innovation in temporary housing. For a fairly low cost, they improve lives and help combat homelessness, but vague ownership and where these homes can legally be put are complicated issues communities will have to resolve. This is a debate that may be coming to a city near you very soon.
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Photo Credit: Starting Human