Wednesday, May 4, 2016

HUD commissioned study recommends building Tiny Home Villages to increase Affordable Housing

A slew of clickbait headlines struck fear into the tiny house community last month—incorrectly stating that a proposed policy of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) sought to make tiny houses illegal. 

In fact, the opposite is true. It turns out HUD is actively looking into the feasibility of using tiny home villages to increase affordable housing stock. They recently commissioned U.C. Berkeley's School of Public Policy—the top ranked public policy analysis program in the country—to research the issue. This week they released the following report:

A Tiny House Design
for Emerald Village Eugene
Making a Tiny Deal Out of It: A Feasibility Study of Tiny Home Villages to Increase AffordableHousing in Lane County, Oregon

As the subtitle suggests, the study was focused in Lane County, Oregon–in particular, the neighboring cities of Eugene and Springfield. The report concludes: "We found that tiny home villages are a good solution to increase affordable housing stock in Lane County, Oregon. It is also projected that tiny home villages will create communal support, benefitting residents’ likelihood of long-term housing, employment, and contentment."

Community support—both in the surrounding community and within the village itself—was identified as key to the success of a tiny home village. "All the tiny home villages with whom we spoke noted that the neighborhood community was more likely to support the building of a tiny home village if residents were notified in the early planning stages and included in discussions." It also emphasizes the importance of internal community agreements as—"a concise way to inform the residents and the surrounding neighborhood of the positive culture that the village is fostering."

It's concluded that: "Neighborhood outreach, a community agreement, and an application process will help a tiny home village be successful once built. Internal and external community support could help the project transcend stigma against the marginally housed."

The report also highlights the efficiency and durability of tiny homes, stating, "Even though tiny homes take less time to build than regular homes, more permanent tiny houses are expected to last the same amount of time as regular houses."

Various HUD funding streams, such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs), are reviewed in the context of their ability to be used for the development of tiny home villages. It's pointed out that the cost and complexity of the application process for LIHTCs—a popular way to subsidize modern affordable housing built by private developers—is a barrier to small non-profit organizations. Instead, the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) is identified as a particularly good match. It allows for the inclusion of "sweat equity" and volunteer labor, which lends itself to tiny homes utilizing simple construction practices.

The ability to evaluate the effectiveness of tiny home villages was limited, since there is not yet much data collected on the subject. However, the report identifies some useful metrics to collect future research, which we intend to put to use in our work with SquareOne Villages.

"Future developers in Eugene can benefit from the example set by SquareOne Villages, the organization that built Opportunity Village and is planning Emerald Village. Since the process of permitting and zoning a tiny home village has already succeeded in Eugene, developers could follow the established path."

Read the Report: 

Making a Tiny Deal Out of It: A Feasibility Study of Tiny Home Villages to Increase Affordable
Housing in Lane County, Oregon

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Does HUD really want to make tiny houses illegal, or is the movement just entering a new phase?

I've seen a ton of misinformation being spread in regards to the legality of tiny houses, and decided to get in on the conversation to try and articulate the irony of this particular juncture in the tiny house movement. The article and video linked below seems as though it must be an April Fool's prank, but these concerns have been circulating for awhile.

"HUD Wants to make living in tiny houses illegal!"
Source: Activist Post; Photo by Guillaume Dutilh

The current controversy is around a new rule proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which "proposes to revise the exemption for recreational vehicles that are not self-propelled from HUD’s Manufactured Housing Procedural and Enforcement Regulations... which would define a recreational vehicle as one built on a vehicular structure, not certified as a manufactured home, designed only for recreational use and not as a primary residence or for permanent occupancy..."

While I strongly disagree with policies aimed at delegitimizing transient lifestyles through definitions of what is "permanent," the policy being discussed is not as big of a deal for tiny house enthusiasts as it's being made out to be. In fact, it's a non-issue.

As a recent press release by the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) clearly states: "The laws and regulations governing the use of RVs are set at the state and especially at the local municipal and county levels, not by HUD. So the new rule does not affect full-time recreational RVing in any way."

The issue was further clarified here by Andrew Morrison: 

"The new proposal would dictate that a tiny house, if built to ANSI or NFPA standards, is an RV and thus not suitable for permanent occupancy. The reality is that it is already illegal to live permanently in an RV in most places anyway. That is something that local zoning ordinances specifically dictate. So the problem here is the idea of certifying your tiny house as an RV rather than seeking permanent residential status through the building codes division."

Basically, recreational vehicles are typically already disqualified as permanent dwellings anywhere local zoning ordinances are enforced. This is why I did not support recent approaches to legitimize tiny houses by certifying them as RVs, which by definition are not permanent. It shouldn't come as a surprise that HUD is not willing to recognize something on wheels as permanent housing. 

After all, the entire idea of placing these alternative housing structures on wheels in the first place was to escape the formal regulation under the building code!

While placing the humble abodes on trailers was a creative approach for allowing the structures to be built legally, it is very unlikely a path to establishing them as a primary residence. However, this first phase of the tiny house movement was incredibly important in that the trailer provided a vehicle (literally and figuratively) to put forth imagery that persuaded a diverse range of people to rethink housing.

Jay Shafer did not invent the tiny house in the early 2000's—there is a long history of alternative, minamalist architecture. What he did was successfully market a product that had previously been dismissed by the mainstream media as too radical and fringe.  But Shafer's tiny houses were so damn charming and, most importantly, they looked like traditional, idyllic homes, albeit on a miniature scale. Previous iterations, such as those displayed in the 1979 book Rolling Homes, were much more makeshift and not nearly as polished. Likely because these older examples were more often carried out by owner-builders not as concerned with marketing and selling their homes as a product.

Following the media’s initial fascination with this subject as symbols of an economic recession in the mid-2000's, tiny houses on wheels have gone on to capture the hearts and imaginations of a growing number of people. And maybe even more importantly, they have started a public conversation around the over-sized nature of modern housing trends in general.

In the process, the trailer has become an iconic component of a "tiny house"—so much so that some now include it in their definition—but do we really love these simple homes because they are on wheels?

If so, you may not actually be looking for a “permanent” dwelling at all, in which case this this new HUD policy is irrelevant to you. Most legal places to park RVs allow you to stay in one location for a certain amount of time, often up to 30 days. And so if you’re looking for a nomadic lifestyle this is not problem—aside from the deeply entrenched governmental attempts to discredit you from being a legitimate citizen through their definitions of “permanent.” As Tim McCormick pointed out in a recent piece on Medium, the entire idea of “permanent housing" is "a slippery concept, when you consider it.”

But, in my experience hearing from and reading about people living in tiny houses, they hardly ever relocate the structures more than once or twice, in which case designing around the confines of a mobile trailer doesn’t seem entirely practical.

In other words, I'm arguing that the trailer has served its purpose of putting the “tiny house” on the political map, and we are now in a position to move towards a second phase of the tiny house movement.

I agree with Andrew Morrison’s assertion that "the best approach for legalizing tiny houses is not through HUD, it is not through the RVIA [Recreational Vehicle Industry Association], it is through the IRC [International Residential Code].” However, I'm not as concerned as Morrison that the current IRC (the standard building code used in the U.S.) is a major roadblock needing to be overcome.

As was pointed out in a Eugene City Council work session last year, "There’s nothing in the building code that prohibits a tiny house. The building codes seldom prohibit design elements and instead establishes minimum standards. Many tiny house designs incorporate specific elements that them themselves have code challenges—such as ladder access to a sleeping loft or the size of a bathroom. For that reason they are often made mobile by putting them on wheels to avoid being subject to building code. This probably is the cause of the misconception that the tiny house can’t meet the building code requirements.”

And a critical amendment to the 2015 IRC made building tiny much more doable, removing the arbitrary requirement of having one room of at least 120 square feet.

So if the goal is to live full-time in your tiny house in a consistent, long-term location, then put it on a foundation. 

There are a couple of approaches to accomplish this: 1) building the tiny house directly on a foundation, or 2) moving the house by trailer, and then anchoring it to a foundation.

SquareOne Villages is demonstrating the first approach—building on foundations with it’s Emerald Village project in Eugene, OR. You can check out the plans for this permanent, 24-unit tiny home community here. (Note that when I use “permanent” in relation to housing, I mean security of tenure where you have a permanent right to stay in the dwelling).

The second approach of setting a tiny house on a foundation may be suitable to many existing tiny housers, who relocate their houses but on a very infrequent basis. The building code would require the structure to be anchored to the foundation, but there are methods for doing this within existing codes so that it could be dismounted from the foundation and moved by trailer if desired. 

You could even build it on a trailer, remove the wheels, and then anchor your structure to the foundation if you wanted to. "Manufactured dwellings", formerly known as mobile homes (note the rebranding of these structures seems to be a pivot away from any connotation with mobility and transiency), already do this using helical anchors, so no need to reinvent the wheel here. 

In summary, the recent HUD proposal is not as devastating as those click-bait titles suggest. It just means that certifying your tiny house as an RV is not the route for you if your goal is full-time residency in a consistent, long-term location. However, that goal can be achieved through various strategies for attaching tiny houses to foundations.

I don't think HUD has anything against tiny houses in particular. What I do know is that the disconnect between HUD and the American people runs deep.

There is an unmistakable demand for this type of simple housing option, but it appears they are unsure how to adapt something outside of the norm to their convoluted funding streams and requirements. HUD is recently tasked a group of UC Berkeley graduate students to advise them on if and how they should fund tiny house villages as a means to address the lack of affordable housing. Let's hope that this might be a first step in beginning a productive conversation.

For more information on this subject, check out this press release from the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association.

Follow-up Post: HUD commissioned study recommends building Tiny Home Villages to increase Affordable Housing

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 in Review: Tiny House Villages progress as traditional housing options continue to fall short

At the end of last year, I wrote one of my more popular posts, titled "2014—A Pivotal Year for Tiny House Villages."
At the start of the [2014] year, Eugene's Opportunity Village had been open just a few months, Olympia's Quixote Village just a few days, and Madison's OM Village was still just an idea. Since then, these projects have helped inspire a housing model being pursued throughout the country—a model that's beginning to seem less radical, and more practical—and a model that's therefore beginning to see substantial political support for addressing the persistent issues of homelessness and affordable housing.
As 2015 draws to an end, I thought I'd provide a recap of some of what has transpired since then.

Quixote Village in Olympia, WA

Derek Joel visited Opportunity Village this past spring looking for a model to address homelessness in his hometown of Lake County, CA. The idea has since been quickly put into action for a then unknown purpose—a shelter solution for the refugees from the devastating wildfires that hit the area this summer. Follow along at Cornerstone Villages.
"We are currently building tiny home villages in Lake County, CA, offering a safe and secure place to be for those who are unhoused. Due to the Valley Fire destruction, thousands have been displaced with only a portion having insurance to fund rebuilding their lost homes. Cornerstone Villages is in the process of building several tiny home villages that will give a mid to long term solution for those in need. It takes a Village to build a Village. Join us."

Big strides were also made in Seattle, where Nickelsville—a tent city featured in my book—is transitioning to a tiny house village that is currently taking shape thanks to some collaborative partnerships.

"The Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) in partnership with Nickelsville and the Lutheran Good Shepherd is currently working on creating a Tiny House Village to support those experiencing homeless in the Seattle, Washington area. The Tiny House Village will have 15 tiny homes on the site and will contain a security hut, kitchen tent, donation hut, two toilets and a shower facility. Each of the homes is insulated and built with high quality construction. Standing at 8 feet by 12 feet, these houses provide enough space for 1-2 people. LIHI will be providing case management for the residents of the tiny houses to get them on track to moving into permanent housing. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd has generously provided the land to accommodate the village, while Nickelsville will be conducting the referrals for the site and implement a self-governance structure in managing the village. The partnership among LIHI, Nickelsville, and the Lutheran Church has been crucial to the success of this village. 7 volunteer build groups are building the 15 tiny houses, including construction companies that have donated their time and effort as well as pre-apprenticeship and vocational programs that have incorporated tiny house construction into their curriculum. Each of the houses costs $2,200 to build, and a great deal of these costs has been covered by generous donors. The partnership is working to complete this Village by Christmas of 2015.
Nickelsville and LIHI have also partnered with SHARE/WHEEL to operate two tent encampments on City of Seattle property. The encampment in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle contains 5 tiny houses along with tents on wooden platforms. These encampments on city-owned property were possible with the support of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council. The city passed an ordinance allowing for three transitional encampments on city-owned property that will set the national standard for city government support in encampments as an immediate intervention for homelessness."
Tiny House Village takes shape in Seattle, WA

Madison, Wisconsin's OM Village celebrated their one year aniversary. It's another example that has received unanimous praise since opening, winning over many of their neighboring critics after their fears failed to manifest.
"In extensive interviews with neighbors, many of whom initially fought the tiny village idea, the State Journal heard many similar comments and almost unanimous praise for the first year of the social experiment. A review of housing assessments, home sales and police calls also found no evidence so far of the dire consequences critics predicted for the neighborhood."
OM Village in Madison, WI

Here in Eugene, Opportunity Village continues to operate as designed, with 17 residents transitioning to more permanent living situations this year. One stand-out highlight was a free concert held at the Village—a stop on Luc and the Lovingston's Goodness Tour—providing a well received break from the everyday grind. The video below features a lead guitar performance by one of our residents!

Our next project, Emerald Village, continues to progress one step at a time. In May we purchased an acre of land for the permanent, affordable tiny house community, which will offer a step up from homelessness for some, and a more sustainable option for others at risk of becoming homeless. We've had 12 different local architect teams sign-on to design and lead the building of the first dozen houses (you can view most of those here).

We also changed the name of our non-profit to SquareOne Villages in an effort to signify the expansion of our mission, both locally and beyond. Our executive director gave a TEDx talk that's definitely worth a watch if you haven't seen it yet and you've read this far!

In May, I was honored to co-present with the inspirational Mark Lakeman during a two-day workshop in Victoria, BC. One month later Victoria's City Council approved a 35-50 resident pilot project, and a grassroots organization—known as Micro-housing Victoria—formed to plan Solidarity Village. The City has supported them in efforts to find land, recently offering $25,000 to the group to develop architectural renderings of the project. Here is an excerpt from the staff report:
Staff recommend that Council consider identifying and supporting a "grass roots" organization to develop a "made in Victoria" micro-housing approach, subject to:
  • Identifying an appropriate site of sufficient size to serve about 35 to 50 residents
  • Developing an agreement with the organization on objectives and operations
  • The City's commitment to provide funding and City services to the project
Workshop with Mark Lakeman and Mayor Lisa Helps
in Victoria, BC
Joline and our awesome host Bobby in front of tiny house
display outside the workshop
"unhoused and allies" meeting that led to the inception
of Micro-housing Victoria

In Sonoma, California, the Board of Supervisors authorized $75,000 for county staff “to analyze six sites in Santa Rosa that could host a village — eight to 12 structures, including possibly mobile trailers, small cabins or shipping containers,” reports The Press Democrat.

And in Chicago, there's currently a competition underway to design a tiny house village in partnership with the local AIA chapter. A prototype of the winning design will be constructed and on display at the Tiny Homes Summit in April at the University of Chicago.

Fort Stewart soldiers build 'tiny houses' 
for homeless Savannah veterans

Dozens of other projects are currently in the works throughout the U.S. and beyond, and I look forward to reporting on more progress next year.

Want to get involved? Join the movement! See if there's an existing effort to start a community near you on the Village Collaborative Network, and join the conversation on the Village Collaborative Facebook Page. For more detailed information on this subject pick up a copy of Tent City Urbanism.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tent Cities—Tiny Houses—TEDx

I wanted to share a couple recent and relevant TEDx presenations that are a must see if you're interested in Tent City Urbanism.

The first is by Dan Bryant, our executive director at SquareOne Villages, explaining the need for truly affordable housing solutions, and introducing Emerald Village as a model for doing just that.

The second is by Luca Clemente of OM Build, which talks about the relationships developed between the unhoused and the housed during Madison, Wisconsin's Occupy Camp, and the collaborative development that ensued, called OM Village.

Very interesting that both of these efforts emerged in the aftermath of a local Occupy camp, and always exciting as the body of work on this topic continues to grow.

Feel free to add your reactions to these presentations below.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Activists in Denver erect tiny houses for the unhoused—police arrest 10 and confiscate houses

Here is a recap of the events from Benjamin at Denver Homeless Out Loud:

"Last night, Saturday, Oct 24th, about 70 Denver Police Department and Denver Sheriff's Department officers, including swat units, under orders from Mayor Michael Hancock, descended on Sustainability Park and arrested 10 community members who, along with many others, were in the process of setting up a Tiny Home Village to be occupied and managed by houseless people. The arrests, on charges of trespassing, were followed by the destruction and removal of several tiny homes which the group had constructed for houseless community members to live in. The group, composed of houseless people and supporters, had been constructing tiny homes and trying to find a location for the village for over a year. But due to zoning and code constraints they have not been able to find a legal place to put the houses..

On Saturday, during a permaculture action day event, the group brought tiny homes that they had built or were in the process of building onto the Sustainability Park site. They announced their intentions to establish the Tiny Homes Village, which they named Resurrection Village (after the similarly named tent city which Martin Luther King Jr's Poor People's Human Rights Campaign built in Washington DC to demand higher wages and access to decent housing). Among the goals which the group put forth in conducting this action were providing low-cost, safe and sustainable housing for members of the unhoused community, gaining the right to put up tiny homes in Denver, ending the criminalization of homelessness, and maintaining urban farms. In explaining why they had chosen this site on which to establish the village, the group recounted how the Denver Housing Authority, which owns the property, has torn down hundreds of low income housing units, and after allowing the Urban Farming Cooperative to use the land for a few years, has agreed this year to sell the land to a private developer (Treehouse), who will build multifamily housing that will support gentrification in Curtis Park but be far beyond the reach of those for whom the Denver Housing Authority is supposed to exist.

In the afternoon, while constructing tiny homes on-site, the group was visited by a representative of Denver Housing Authority, as well as by the developer. By 9pm, with a police helicopter circling overhead, the officers made the arrests and Denver Public Works destroyed, threw into dump trucks, and carted away the homes that had been so badly needed by houseless people and so lovingly constructed by those who would have lived there and their supporters."