Tiny Houses as ‘Homeless Housing’ Part II
August 8, 2014 § 9 Comments
I originally posted a couple weeks ago expecting a huge uproar on this topic (you can see the post HERE). My point previously was that this is a complicated issue and I had concerns about making backward progress when trying to legalize tiny houses this way. Of course I threw in a few [some not well thought out] opinions too. I heard very little kickback, which surprised me honestly. Well, it just took a little time before one of the projects I was sure would feel ‘wronged’ by this got a hold of it and then the kickback started. I really enjoyed the conversations, though some were a little offensive to me (they made it clear that I had offended them as well, though I did not mean to!), that just goes to show how dearly this issue is held though. Before I get into this I just want to reiterate, I am in no way against homeless people or these developments, I know there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed in this country, these developments simply did not pencil out in my head [from the developers side I admit, that is the side I work from]. There were a couple replies that have made me really rethink things, primarily from Andrew Heben, author of Tent City Urbanism so I wanted to post my new thoughts and hear from others on this issue.
In a nutshell, do I think tiny houses are the right path to take to address homelessness, I am not qualified to answer that nor do I think there is a one size fits all answer, I divert to trusting the people working in that area, they have a lot more knowhow than me. After this discussion do I think these developments are in any way a threat to others wanting to live in a tiny house? No, I don’t.
Point one. The main reasons for the change of heart are a direct result of an email conversation with Andrew who is savvy enough to see through my random clusters of run-on sentences based on vague worries and be able to address my actual concerns which revolve around finances and codes. I am a bit embarrassed for posting the previous post before thinking the whole way around the financial issues but I honestly don’t think I would have got there without making that post. Right now it seems the assistance programs for ‘homeless housing’ (a complete oxymoron) have a certain fee schedule set up that they just pay. The big ‘ah-ha’ moment for me in this conversation was this reply to my concerns (I’m just going to copy/paste because Andrew is better at words than I am):
Macy, I think we are finally getting to the pre-eminent benefit of the tiny house model over multi-family housing (at least at this point in time). Before we were talking about capital costs, and sure we can agree to disagree on that. But the reduced operating and maintenance cost with a tiny house makes your question of government assistance vs. occupant payment less relevant than it has been in the past.
Section 8 housing requires a resident to pay 30% of their income toward rent, and government subsidy picks up whatever is left of the market rate rent.
Problem: subsidies are underfunded to adequately meet this demand.
Solution: build a form of housing that is not dependent on Section 8 subsidies
I believe “homeless housing” is an oxymoron. The whole point of the tiny house movement is that there is very little to pay for once you have it, right? A home free from rent and debt. That is assuming you can find a free place to put it. So these projects you are referring to can be done WITHOUT government subsidy AND WITHOUT residents paying rent BECAUSE of the low cost nature of the tiny house model. Costs the taxpayer nothing, only those who want to contribute.
If you can figure out a way to do something similar with denser, multi-family housing that would be beyond cool. Because your right in that density is good, and the tiny house village would not necessarily be a good fit for a place like say NYC. But currently, it’s not possible. Tiny houses are a lot less complex, a lot more human scale, and that has allowed average people to wrap there minds around it and find ways around more stringent requirements in other types of development
This was ‘ah-ha’ for me because in the development world I have always cursed clients for only concerning themselves with upfront costs because you can put a little more upfront and pay a lot less in maintenance costs. The developer though, doesn’t generally care because they build and rent out, they don’t actually pay the operation costs and they generally don’t want to pay more up front to save anyone else money downstream. Clearly I have been conditioned to only think about the up front costs as well when the current model of housing homeless individuals is largely operational costs. Andrew makes a VERY good point about this model of housing being mutually beneficial on all levels, even IF the upfront cost was a little more than other models. (Some other commenters make very good suggestions for alternative housing options that I like, particularly Parker, thank you all for posting your thoughts!)
Now, point two. In the last post I stated that the tiny houses couldn’t be built for less than about 25k on a good day. I was talking generally and as if these were a one size fits all solution, hiring a contractor and making this a scaleable type of project. I stand by that, you can’t hire a contractor and build out these houses (to codes) for less than that and likely it would be more. Just like when you buy a tiny house it is MUCH more than if you build it yourself. My error was taking out the fact that you CAN build them yourself. It doesn’t matter my rational for getting there, the fact is you DON’T have to hire contractors to build these, you don’t HAVE to use new materials, you don’t HAVE to do lots of things that all of us have been conditioned to think we have to do. Sure it may add man-hours to a job but if you have more hours available and less money you can build them for much less. I was assuming, since it is a governmental funded housing project that it would have to be built through ‘legit’ channels, fully to code attached to a contractors license etc. I have gathered that that is a real challenge for these developments in addition to the exact same challenges all of us tiny house people are facing. They have men and women to do the work, they have the ability to find sponsorships, they have people actively working on codes on a much greater scale than most of us individuals and these projects are finding exceptions to challenges which are allowing people to have roofs over their head that they can afford In ADDITION TO relieving long term costs of supplementing section 8 housing. I am impressed and a little bummed that I didn’t look further into this issue prior to posting. Though, I am glad I posted anyway so that it can open up this conversation.
Point three, codes! My biggest concern and the one that prompted me to even write the last post was that I was fearful of these projects getting exceptions written into codes for this ‘special circumstance’ would limit the ability to cross over to other circumstances ie. non-low income). (I think a lot of people took that to mean I was anti low income and pro upper/middle class, that is not even close to the reality, sometimes I am just bad at writing and/or getting my point across.) I could have just as easily reversed it and said I am afraid if we get these okayed for the middle class then they would not be allowed for low income. Just the fact that I can reverse it like that shows how silly that argument is. The reservations are and were based on real life experiences that I have experienced in my life though. I was only ever a party to the result though, not the process that led to it and therefore I do not know if they were caused from a code standpoint or a developer standpoint. I was just left with this concern. So, I will once again copy and paste the conversation with Andrew because I think he states it really simply and clearly, enough to alleviate my concern completely: