Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 in Review: A Pivotal Year for Tiny House Villages

2014 was the year for an idea whose time has come—transitioning from camp to village. It is by no means a new idea, but has only recently found a favorable political climate. Let's take a look at some of what transpired:

At the start of the 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.

In Eugene, the Opportunity Village pilot project proved to have a positive impact on both the residents that live there and the surrounding community, and the city council recently voted unanimously to extend the project through June 2016. If you're unfamiliar with it, this PBS video provides a fantastic introduction:

Furthermore, both the city and county have continued to incrementally adopt this strategy of working in partnership with local non-profits to address the issue. Following Opportunity Village Eugene, two other non-profits have emer—Community Supported Shelters and Nightingale Public Advocacy Collective—and in all, these grassroots efforts have added the capacity of 128 legal shelter spaces in either tents or micro-housing.

After one year of operation in Olympia, those behind Quixote Village report that the development has been a success in their goal of moving residents towards self-sufficiency. And OM Village had their ribbon cutting in November, which created a whirlwind of international media coverage.

A photo from democraticunderground.com that went viral

My book, Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages, was released in July and  nearly 1,000 copies have since been distributed. I've also been selling them at a discount in bulk through the Village Collaborative website with the intent of generating concentrated masses of local excitement around the idea, and more than a dozen cities have ordered 10 or more.

The City of Eureka, California is home to more copies than any other city (likely 100 or more), and that has proven to be a persuasive edge. In November, along with a few other stops, I gave a presentation in Eureka that had a great turnout including both advocates and city officials. One month later, the City Council has voted unanimously for the city to further explore a tiny house village in Eureka. You can watch the discussion and approval of the motion below:

Meanwhile political support is also becoming more of a norm in other parts of the country as well. New Jersey is considering a state bill (S2751) that would create a "Tiny Home Pilot Program" in which towns would be financially incentivized to allow for the building of affordable tiny houses for the unhoused and low-income. And in Bridgeton, NJ, Mayor Albert Kelly is pushing to make it happen in his city.

Back in Oregon, Portland's Mayor Charlie Hales has been reported to be "enfatuated with the idea" and has committed to building several tiny house developments this coming year.

Down in Alabama, a group known as Foundations for Tomorrow is well underway in bringing a tiny house village to Huntsville. They don't have the necessary political support yet, but that hasn't stopped the group from moving forward with building their first tiny house.

Huntsville tiny house build from AL.com

To capture the growing interest in this model I've put some substantial work into the Village Collaborative website over this past year. The site now includes a Tiny Village Road Map to provide a brief overview for starting a village. 

And thanks to Stephen Smith in Humboldt County, there is now a Village Collaborative Network map (below) that catalogs existing projects as well individuals with an interest in starting a project—with the intent of geographically networking people with similar ideas. Plus the Village Collaborative Facebook Group now has close to 500 members.

So, those were just some of the highlights and progress made in 2014. This all has certainly broadened the scope of the popular tiny house movement and provided a new lens for navigating building code and zoning restrictions for tiny houses.

Looking forward, I plan to work towards getting Emerald Village off the ground here in Eugene (an affordable tiny house community that will offer a next step from Opportunity Village), and to continue to consult with non-profits and municipalities to help get tiny villages off the ground in other cities as well. That said, I'm excited to see what's in store for 2015!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

How to Start a Tiny House Village

View/Download a high-res JPEG here.

Find more information at the Village Collaborative.

View/Download a high-res JPEG here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Jungle: Evicted (Again)

As of late, I've been posting mostly on the tiny house village end of my focus since that is where most of my energy is right now. But today we return to take a look at tent cities, and it's largely the same story unfolding yet again, albeit on a larger scale.

"The Jungle" along San Jose's Coyote Creek has become an infamous American encampment over the past few years, with the estimated 200-300 people spread out in separate "neighborhoods" over 68 acres of residual space. But on this past Thursday, bulldozers and city workers entered the site in yet another attempt to put an end to this congregation of those with no place else to go.

Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group (Source: San Jose Mercury News)

It was a familiar scene since the camp had just been evicted from the same site in late April of the previous year, only to return shortly thereafter. That's right, the city is spending around $500,000 to clear out the camp for the second time in less than two years. The justification for another eviction was based on environmental concerns, along with another familiar argument from city officials—the conditions are intolerable.

"This site is no longer open for any individuals," Bramson [the city's homeless response manager] said. "The fact that anyone has to live in conditions like this is horrible. This shouldn't be a viable alternative for anyone. We need to make sure that people never have to live in a place like this." (Mercury News)

And yet again, city officials choose to only see health and safety hazards, and blatantly ignore the human tendency of banding together to live in community when left with no place else to go.

The Jungle works for the people who live there, providing a sense of community, a support network, even a meager livelihood. The Jungle has its own crude system of governance, with order often maintained vigilante-style, residents say. "Any time people break the rules, they're asked to leave," said a longtime inhabitant, known as Giggles. "As much as we don't like rules, you have to have them." Most of the people who live there didn't choose to be homeless, but now that they are, the Jungle meets their most basic needs. (Mercury News)

If you listen to the people being evicted for just one minute, it's obvious that amidst this "sunken subdivision from hell" there were some positive things happening that could be further developed as part of a nuanced response—where legal recognition could provide the ability to improve physical and organizational infrastructure.

Instead, the city's "homeless response manager" once again clung to conventional, short-term responses—defending the move yet again with expensive, temporary housing subsidies that do little to address the actual situation beyond public relations padding. They tell you that people have been placed in housing, but never clarify for how long.

Bramson said the city is doing everything it can to ease the crisis: 144 people had been placed in housing, and another 55 have housing subsidy vouchers and are looking for homes through this pilot program. An additional 70 to 80 temporary shelter beds also had been arranged. Officials hope the cleanup of the Jungle will show that local government can help get the homeless into housing as well as clean up polluted creeks. (Mercury News)

Some have plans to organize a new camp at a different site while others have committed to returning to "The Jungle" once again after the city lets their guard down. On the other hand, the city has committed to using police working overtime to patrol the site to make sure that it is closed for good. But unless they want to see the same headlines and videos next year, they should probably try some more proactive responses that involve listening to the people they are planning for.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Village Collaborative Network

When OM Village had their ribbon cutting a couple a weeks ago, the story went viral, resulting in 100s of people asking "how do I start something like this?" and an explosion in the Village Collaborative Facebook Group—a group intended for those with an interest in creating tiny house communities as a sustainable way to address issues of affordable housing and homelessness. Here the common question became: "is anyone else in [insert city] interested in doing this?" As a result, the Village Collaborative Network was created. This map based network shown below allows individuals to connect with others on a similar pursuit, and also catalogs existing or in-the-works tiny house village projects. It illustrates the sheer mass of a growing movement.

Interested in starting a village in your town? Join the Village Collaborative Network here: goo.gl/jgppLP

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tiny Village Model Takes Root in Northern California

Thought I would give a quick recap of my trip this past week, in which I gave presentations in Chico, Nevada City, Martinez, and Eureka—covering content from my book and the founding of Opportunity Village. Overall, the trip was quite a success, and I think some lessons can be gleaned here for folks looking to start a tiny village in other areas.

In Chico, I met with some of the folks who have created the Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT). The event drew around 80 people, and the content was very well received. However, folks were feeling rather un-optimistic about the political environment after a conservative sweep of their city council in the recent election, and there weren't many elected leaders in the audience.

Source: The Union
Nevada City was a much larger venue, and the place was filled—including representations from city councilors and staff.

“Half the damn town is here,” said Nevada City Councilman Robert Bergman, surveying the crowd of almost 300 people that filled the Nevada City Elks Lodge Monday night. “The support is there, but the follow-up will be difficult.”

The event was co-sponsored by the non-profit Sierra Roots and Chuck Durrett of Durrett and McCamant Architects, who provided the conceptual rendering below. During my time there, we also met with students at a John Muir charter school known as Youth Build. Here troubled youth between 18-25 were receiving a stipend to learn construction skills—and some of them were in need of housing themselves. I felt as though the project was already beginning to take shape with organizational support from Sierra Roots, technical support from Chuck Durrett, and skilled builders from the Youth Build program. And this is a perfect example of how the resources to start a project like this already exist within a local community.

A series of local newspaper articles on the subject were released in the weeks leading up to the event, which I believe really created a critical momentum for the project.

September 13, 2014 "Our homeless crisis is a housing crisis ready to be solved" — op-ed

October 18, 2014: "It takes a village; a low-income housing solution" — op-ed

October 23, 2014: "Opportunity Village in Nevada City" — op-ed

November 7, 2014: "Nevada County town looks to create 'Opportunity Village'" - feature

November 10, 2014: "It Takes a Village" event took place

November 12, 2014: "Nevada County seeks to create homeless village" - feature

Gradually releasing information about your project through the local news media is a critical step toward building political will. It's about being persistent rather than writing any one great piece. Releasing plans to fast or all at once can make the public feel uninvolved, which can amplify the NIMBY reaction.

Later in the week, I presented in Eureka, which also created a great deal of general and political interest. I was told that the area has the highest per capita homeless rate in the country. And the group seemed particularly intrigued by the fact that doing nothing was costing the city more economically than doing something.

Source: Times-Standard
The event here was organized by an advocacy group calling themselves Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA), and attracted just under 200 people in attendance. Following the presentation we broke into four groups focused on building the political will in the community, and nearly half the crowd stuck around. 

This initiative has also been successful in getting positive media coverage with "It's Time for an Opportunity Village" being published prior to the event, and an excellent piece covering the event itself, which you can read here: "Common ground: Creating opportunities for change"

Overall, I am highly optimistic about village projects emerging in Nevada City and Eureka in the near future. This kind of idea has been tossed around in these communities for years, but it appears that these events may have bumped them over the edge—establishing the political will necessary to realize a project like this.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Details on Austin's 200-unit Micro-Housing Community

Community First Village—a 27-acre master-planned community being developed in Austin, Texas—has been touted as a solution to chronic homelessness. Once complete, the village will include 200-units of micro-housing along with supporting common facilities.

I recently had a chance to chat with Alan Graham—president of the non-profit organization behind the project, Mobile Loaves & Fishes (ML&F)—which provided a bit more insight into the project compared to what has been presented in the news thus far. 

"If you want to understand homelessness you have to understand home," said Graham,  "and we believe home has very little to do with the physical structure."

Instead Graham talked about permanence, affiliation, orientation, hospitality and safety as the real defining factors of home—all of which he has made the focus of Community First Village.

ML&F has raised $7 million to complete the housing project—all of which has come from private donors. Graham estimates that 80% of this funding came from between 15-20 people. The village will have full-time staff on site with an operating cost projected at $1.2 million per year.

It's important to note that Community First Village will actually be an example of low-cost housing and NOT a "housing first" type model for the chronically homeless (I'd been led to believe otherwise based on what I had read about the project). There will still be rent and residents will have to have some source of income in order to live there. But by building small, ML&F will be able to keep rent affordable to low-income individuals independent of ongoing public subsidies.

Three different housing options will be offered with monthly rent being a variable of the accommodations of each housing type. This includes:

Screenshot from Mobile Loaves & Fishes website (http://mlf.org/pave-the-way-home/)

1) Canvas Sided Cottages $120/month (8'x10') - $180/month (8'x12')

2) Micro-Housing: $210/month (12'x12') - $250/month (10'x18') 

3) 5th Wheel RVs: $400/month

The canvas sided cottages and micro-housing will have electricity but no plumbing. Instead they will be supported by common restroom facilities scattered throughout the site. The 5th wheel will come equipped with both electricity and plumbing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Legal Path for Tiny House Communities

In my book Tent City Urbanism, I layout a vision towards tiny house villages—however, the physical form of this housing type is not currently within the scope of most local land use and zoning codes. The villages that have been realized thus far have required a lengthy and costly public process each time. As I reported in my last post, there has been recent movement toward legalizing tiny houses, but what about tiny house communities?

I’ve compiled an early proposal for a demonstration ordinance that could be adopted at the municipal level to make the tiny house village an acceptable residential land use—inspired primarily by cottage housing ordinances around the Seattle area. This would allow the housing option to be more readily deployed, and in a variety of styles (i.e. low-cost or upscale). In essence, it is a hybrid of both single- and multi-family housing along with the addition of a social dimension that has gone desperately missing from those conventional options.

Tiny House Development (THD) Demonstration Ordinance

Primary Goals:

1.  To increase housing diversity in ways that are compatible with existing residential zones 
2.  To promote housing affordability and sustainability for all income levels by encouraging smaller homes
3.  To allow for a limited number of regulated THD demonstration projects
4.  To set forth a review process and general parameters for THD demonstration projects
5.  To evaluate demonstration projects to inform the adoption of a permanent ordinance


1.  Provide an opportunity for the development of small, detached housing clustered around common open spaces
2.  Combine character of single family housing with affordability and density of multi-family units
3.  Increase affordable housing options for one and two person households and small families
4.  Reduce per unit development costs of conventional low-income housing developments
5.  Permit THDs in residential zones
6.  Provide opportunity for infill development (clusters of tiny houses can fit on standard residential lots)
7.  Allow for higher density standards in exchange for reducing impact by limiting house size
8.  Create a range of affordability by allowing for varying levels of support from common kitchen, bath, and gathering facilities

Development Standards (preliminary):

1.  Redefining Density: Housing developments may increase the per unit density standard of the underlying zone by 50% when in compliance with the standards set in this section.
2.  House Size Limits: The maximum allowed gross floor area is 950sf per unit. The maximum gross floor area for the ground floor is 750sf per unit.
3.  Common Open Space: cottages fronting at least two sides. Each unit must have x amount of common space. Reduced in-unit kitchen/bath requirements if supported by on-site common facilities.
4.  Parking Standards: 0.5 parking spaces per dwelling if within 0.25 mile of transit stop.
5.  Non-conforming Structures: Existing structures that are non-conforming to the standards for a THD are permitted to remain, provided that the extent of the non-conformity shall not be increased.

Precedent: Kirkland, WA—Cottage Housing Ordinance:

1.  The City of Kirkland began review of cottage housing under an "Innovative Housing Demonstration Ordinance" in 2002, with similar goals to the ones set forth above
2.  An interim ordinance was adopted to test the idea of cottage housing before adopting a permanent ordinance, and a formal evaluation was completed in 2006
3.  The demonstration projects were successful in implementing a new and smaller housing option, though the actual affordability of the housing was questioned. The projects became highly desirable places to live.
4.  A permanent Cottage Housing Ordinance was adopted and has been listed as a best practice by HUD: http://www.huduser.org/portal/casestudies/study_102011_2.html
5.  Cottage Housing has been adopted in several cities in the Seattle area, which has informed this resource: “Cottage Housing in Your Community: A guide to drafting a Cottage Housing Ordinance"

Interpretation of Minimum Area Standards as defined by International Residential Code:

The size of the housing units would be limited to the minimum area standards set by the building code. This includes:

1.  R304.1 Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area**
2.  R304.2 Other habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square fee (except kitchens)
3.  R304.3 Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension (except kitchens)
4.  R304.4 Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet between floor and ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.
5.  R306.1 Requires that every dwelling have a water closet, lavatory, and bathtub or shower (which could be as small as 18sf while still meeting spacing requirements in Section 307)
6.  R306.2 Requires that every dwelling have a kitchen area with a sink 
7.  There are no minimum area requirements for a bathroom. There are space requirements for the various bathroom fixtures, which could be accommodated in 18 square feet.

** The provision for one room of at least 120sf has been eliminated in the 2015 International Residential Code

Conclusion: There is no requirements that the sleeping area or kitchen has to be in a separate room, and with the 120 square foot requirement removed, the legal permitted limit for a tiny house could be as small as 88 square feet (70sf room + 18sf bath)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Movement growing toward legalizing tiny houses—120 square foot requirement eliminated from building code!

According to Tom Meyer, a building official active in the revision of modern building codes that inhibit affordable and sustainable residential construction, the requirement that each dwelling have at least one habitable room of 120 square feet has been eliminated in the 2015 International Residential Code. Below we see a view of the new 2015 IRC, courtesy of Meyer:

Source: http://sustainablebuildingcodes.blogspot.com/

This came as a surprise to me as I recently wrote a post titled, "Navigating minimum square footage requirements for tiny houses WITHOUT a trailer — International Residential Code says it can be as little as 138 square feet"

My point was that the minimum area regulations were not that bad, and that it is in fact municipal ordinances—not the building code—that are the real legal barrier to building tiny houses. But this change will make the building code even less of an issue—allowing for a legal dwelling under 100 square feet.

Now all habitable room just have to meet the minimum area of 70 square feet and height of 7 feet (already the requirement for all "other habitable" rooms besides the previously required 120 square foot room).

In a previous post back in 2010, Meyer notes that he is also responsible for adding the exemption for kitchens not having to meet minimum area requirements, allowing the kitchen to not have to have its own designated room:

"Kitchens are deeded habitable, but are exempt from the minimum room area. Earlier editions of the code required 50sf for this location. The current exception was also one of my code changes. If was quite a battle to get the ICC membership to delete this requirement. However, we prevailed. Based on this experience, it may be quite difficult to delete the 120sf and 70sf minimums in future codes. However, I think that a proposal to do so is certainly worth consideration for the 2015 edition."

And it looks like his proposal was indeed worth consideration. See his argument for removing the 120 square foot room requirement below:

Source: http://sustainablebuildingcodes.blogspot.com/

Meanwhile, Eli Spevak has put out a proposal titled "A Legal Path to Tiny Homes in Portland." The proposal would allow for both small auxiliary structures (under 200 square feet) and tiny houses on wheels to be legally accepted as habitable structures, provided they meet a property maintenance code and receive a "temporary certificate of occupancy."

Read Spevak's full tiny house proposal here.

I have been working on a proposal of my own for a municipal ordinance that would allow for tiny house developments (THDs)—allowing for the development of tiny house communities on parcels in residential zones. To develop this ordinance, I'm drawing from Ross Chapin's extensive work with "pocket neighborhoods" and the "cottage housing" codes he helped craft around Seattle. More on that soon.

Pocket Neighborhoods by Ross Chapin

Follow-Up Post: "A Legal Path for Tiny House Communities"

Monday, October 20, 2014

An aerial view of Eugene, Oregon's alternative approach to dealing with homelessness

Between 2013 and 2014, two new non-profits have added 60 spaces of safe, dry shelter in Eugene, OR. This includes 30 units of micro-housing by Opportunity Village Eugene and 30 "rest stop" spaces by Community Supported Shelters (known as the Safe Spot and the Vet's Camp).

While this may be a drop in the bucket when looking at the estimated 1,300 citizens going unsheltered in Lane County's 2011 point-in-time count, it's a relatively quick and drastic move in the right direction—especially when compared to the rate at which more conventional non-profits have been adding shelter beds.

Google recently updated their satellite imagery, and now we can see what this shift looks like from above (click here to see for yourself). Quite a contrast to the large, sprawling scale of surrounding development. Below I take a historical look at the site on which Opportunity Village is located (111 N. Garfield St.), courtesy of good ol' Google Earth.

1995 - the two acre site hosted a 34-unit trailer park
2005 - empty spaces begin to appear at the trailer park
2006 - only a few trailers remain at the site
2011 - the property is acquired by the city through eminent domain and
rezoned as industrial - the property is lightly used for storage of city vehicles.
2012 - plans are put forth to develop a large city storage facility, but no
funding is available to begin the project
2013 - city council approves the site for a "transitional micro-housing project"
 as a one-year pilot project, pending the acquisition of a conditional use permit.
OVE develops the above illustrative plan and acquires a CUP for the site.
2014 - Opportunity Village opens in August 2013 and piecemeal development occurs through May 2014.
Following a recommendation by staff, council has since extended the lease through June 1, 2016. 

What do you think about the view of Opportunity Village from above?

Read more about how Opportunity Village came to be and how to start a similar model in your town by picking up a copy of the new book—Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Upcoming Presentations

I have four presentations coming up in Northern California in mid-November that will cover content from the book as well experiences in starting Opportunity Village—with the intent of building momentum for getting similar projects started in other areas. I'm excited to give these presentations is such close proximity to each other to demonstrate that there is a regional demand for this type of shelter model, and that it is not a fringe idea that would put politicians out on a limb. Dates include:

November 9 — Chico, CA

November 10 — Nevada City, CA

November 11 — Martinez, CA

November 15 — Eureka, CA

To find out more information about one of these presentations, or to arrange one in your town, contact me here.

Below is a recent article about the Nevada City event:

"Nevada County has a housing crisis. Many people, not just our chronically homeless, are finding themselves without shelter. There are not enough affordable rentals. Individuals and families are having to share anything that is available. A single paycheck is no longer adequate to pay rent and then cover remaining living expenses and food. As a result more Nevada County residents are becoming homeless.

On Nov. 10, Sierra Roots, a 501c3, based in Nevada City, is hosting a presentation on the micro-house village model, Opportunity Village, which has already gained success in Eugene, Ore. Andrew Heben, author of “Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages,” will be the speaker for the evening. He will discuss the kind of collaboration that has emerged simply by making a space available for local community resources."

Read the full article here: http://www.theunion.com/opinion/columns/13396646-113/village-community-costs-nevada

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Two Ends of the Ever-Evolving Tiny House Movement

Below are a couple of new videos that have featured Opportunity Village. The first is by PBS and the second was produced here in Eugene. I've also included a third called "Jay Austin's Beautiful, Illegal Tiny House." The short film begins at Boneyard Studios, and highlights the urgent need in DC for new affordable housing options, such as tiny housing. It also takes a historical look at zoning in the US—a major legal barrier to tiny houses—and claims that the one major city that has remained without zoning—Houston, TX—is actually the most affordable large city in America.

You may notice that the housing in the first two videos looks quite different from the tiny houses in the third video. This juxtaposition illustrates the two ends of the spectrum of the ever-evolving tiny house movement—simple, bare-bones structures at one end and elaborately detailed structures on the other. One aimed at providing a very basic housing option for those with little to no income, and the other aimed at  providing a novel housing option for the middle class that preserves many of the conveniences of the modern house.

OVE's next project, Emerald Village, will fall somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum—offering the next step in the legal evolution of tiny house communities.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Opportunity Village as a place for pooling and mobilizing local resources—PART 2: Mobile Tool Shop

In my last post, I introduced the idea of how Opportunity Village as a place has catalyzed the pooling and mobilization of local resources, focusing on the recent community education program that took place as an example. This past week, a second great example came to fruition, which I would like to cover here.

designBridge—a University of Oregon architecture student organization—has been working on The Common Good project since 2012 when the received a grant from The Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics “to examine notions of capitalism and the common good in relation to design services with and for local houseless individuals.

“Research and community engagement focused us on how design might aid the individual’s transition toward self-reliance and independence,” says project lead, Alex Froehlich. “Our process revealed to us that while minimum standards of human survival—such as food, emergency shelter, clothing, etcetera—were available, there is little to no opportunity for the learning, production and pedagogy that lets a citizen take their future into their own hands. In response, we designed a trailer that will provide space, tools and programs for individuals to learn and practice skills that they can use to effect their own agency.”

Following a public workshop, the student group decided to focus the project on designing and building a mobile tool shop. They then partnered with Opportunity Village to provide a home for the trailer, with the idea that mobility would allow a diverse range of uses in the surrounding community as well.

Early design charrette
Acquired and gutted a used trailer, on display at the village
Taking in feedback at the OVE open house
Schematic drawing for mobile tool shed 
Trailer under construction
designBridge members adding finishing touches
Finished product unveiled at the village on 9/13/14 
A look inside the mobile tool shop
bike repair workshop held at the village 

While bringing this project from idea to reality has already mobilized a significant amount of local resources, it is our hope that this is just the beginning, and that the mobile tool shop will continue to facilitate the sharing of local resources in Eugene. This mission also improves the capacity of Opportunity Village has a hub for taking in salvaged and excess materials that can be re-utilized

Within the village, this new facility will help villagers to maintain and improve the tiny houses and community buildings. Furthermore, it provides a space for villagers to pursue personal projects and income generating initiatives. And then, on a larger context, we hope to find ways that the space can be a resource to the surrounding community as well.

This was Part 2 on pooling & mobilizing local resources with a village. Also Read — Part 1: Community Education

Monday, September 15, 2014

Opportunity Village as a place for pooling and mobilizing local resources—PART 1: Community Education

In my opinion, one of the best things about Opportunity Village is seeing the type of collaboration that has emerged simply by making a space available for pooling and mobilizing local community resources. Here we see urban space reclaimed and invested with value—creating a place for people to gather.

These kind of ideas have been inspired by my involvement with the City Repair project. City Repair is based on "the idea that localization—of culture, of economy, of decision-making—is a necessary foundation of sustainability. By reclaiming urban spaces to create community-oriented places, we plant the seeds for greater neighborhood communication, empower our communities and nurture our local culture."

I had similar goals for Opportunity Village, and back when it was just an idea, I made the claim that"Opportunity Village will create a landscape that would be infused with place so that people would be encouraged to gather and interact with each other.  Within the Village, this idea of place allows for people in a similar situation to work together in order to help themselves.  At the larger scale, it provides an effective avenue for collaboration between the housed and the unhoused."

Now, with the village being open for a year, we see these ideas coming to life. While formal services are not offered on-site, the mere existence of the village as a place has inspired a number of informal services to surface, and I'd like to recount a recent example of this here.

A couple months ago Bill, a teacher from Marist High School, came to one of the weekly village meetings at Opportunity Village. He pitched the idea of using the community yurt to provide a formal academic experience to those who may not find traditional higher education particularly accessible. After a discussion, the village approved this use of their common space through a majority vote.

Following this, Bill began to piece together a pilot program of six classes over the course of three weeks. The idea being: if it went well it could become an official program through the University of Oregon, and college credit could be offered. He found professors from different departments at the UO—including journalism, business, political science, psychology,  and law. Each professor then led a class focused on the meaning of "justice" from the prospective of their academic field.

The classes averaged about 15 people each, and included village residents as well as others from the surrounding community. In talking with Bill afterwards, he found the program to be an overwhelming success. "The participants were smart, sharp, insightful, and I know every professor had very complimentary things to say... like that they wish their normal classes were as engaged as these sessions were. And that was the whole point—we knew that there were smart people who would want an opportunity to share their voice and learn."

One villager told me how it was a very useful experience, saying "I may not enjoy going to school, but I enjoy learning." She went on to say, "The real value is the thinking about the subject, and the subject was well picked—justice—because living in a place like this you have to think about that, and it felt like a unifying thing for the village itself. We were coming together in unity of purpose, and we were active with it."

Going forward, Bill said he'd like to figure out how to make this kind of learning experience accessible to even more people. And we hope Opportunity Village can continue to provide a place for those kind of things to happen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Navigating minimum square footage requirements for tiny houses WITHOUT a trailer — International Residential Code says it can be as little as 138 square feet

I think that a lot of tiny house enthusiasts may be misperceiving minimum area regulations as a building code issue, and wanted to address that here. Below are the applicable minimum area standards that I've found in the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC) for one and two family dwellings—and they're actually quite simple:
  • R304.1 Every dwelling unit shall have at least one habitable room that shall have not less than 120 square feet of gross floor area*** (this requirement has been removed in the 2015 IRC)
  • R304.2 Other habitable rooms shall have a floor area of not less than 70 square fee (except kitchens)
  • R304.3 Habitable rooms shall not be less than 7 feet in any horizontal dimension (except kitchens)
  • R304.4 Portions of a room with a sloping ceiling measuring less than 5 feet between floor and ceiling shall not be considered as contributing to the minimum required habitable area for that room.
  • R306.1 Requires that every dwelling have a water closet, lavatory, and bathtub or shower (which could be as small as 18 sf while still meeting spacing requirements in Section 307)
  • R306.2 Requires that every dwelling have a kitchen area with a sink
  • I've found no requirements that the sleeping area or kitchen has to be in a separate room.
This means that the legal limit for a tiny house throughout the U.S.—according to your state building code—could be as small as 138 square feet (120 sf habitable room at 7' wide + 18 sf bathroom)

Even if one maintains the layout of a more traditional house, it could be as small as 260 square feet (bedroom @ 70 sf. + kitchen @ 50 sf + bathroom @ 20 sf + living room @ 120 sf)

***UPDATE: The 120 sf room requirement has since been eliminated in the 2015 IRC, meaning a dwelling could now be IRC compliant in as small as 88 square feet ( 70 sf habitable room + 18 sf bathroom). 

More on that recent change here: http://www.tentcityurbanism.com/2014/10/movement-growing-toward-legalizing-tiny.html

Simple illustrative drawing of an 8'x20' tiny house that meets
the 2012 IRC minimum area requirements

But this doesn't mean you're off the hook yet. More stringent requirements come in through local municipal code and zoning ordinances. Residential zoning categories are determined by density, and each category can come with strings attached for minimum lot and building area.

So, the challenge is presented by municipal code rather than state building code, which is nice because it can be more approachable given the right circumstances.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

To plumb, or not to plumb?

Currently I'm helping to plan Opportunity Village Eugene's next project, Emerald Village. The affordable tiny house community has been moving along quite smoothly in terms of concept development, fundraising, and political support—though we've recently hit a snag in the decision making process. Our current dilemma revolves around whether or not to plumb the individual tiny houses at Emerald Village, or to utilize a common bathhouse similar to Opportunity Village.

At Opportunity Village, a transitional tiny house community that has been open for one year, the housing units do not have utility hook-ups. They are small, private rooms that are instead supported by shared kitchen, bathroom, and gathering facilities (much like the once popular SRO hotels). The philosophy behind this was simple—we wanted to get as many people off the street as soon as possible, which also meant with very little money (the entire 30-unit village was built for $100k). The fact that utility hook-ups were consolidated in just a few buildings eased permitting complexities of the tiny houses, and allowed us to get on site much sooner. Furthermore, many have pointed out that there is a social benefit to the common facilities. It keeps folks from isolating themselves in their tiny homes, and instead encourages engagement in a self-governed community.

The implications of a model like this are tremendous. This was well articulated in an e-mail I recently received from Seth Zeren in Boston: "...I've been struck by how much we middle class types have become mere consumers of the city, not producers or maintainers of our urbanity. The intense professionalization and othering of the development world means that many citizen activists have no voice other than protest to influence the evolution of their city. My hope is that by showing that even non-professionals, non-wealthy citizen can make a mark on the city we can heal the rifts that are creating barriers to change."

Now, with Emerald Village, we planned to reduce the dependence on common facilities without eliminating it. This involved doubling the square footage of the units and adding electrical wiring to support a kitchenette and heat. But recently, in meeting with various city officials and community leaders, we have received feedback that plumbing, too, should be a must. 

Specifically we've heard that the average person will not consider it "a real house" unless it is "self-contained." I've also seen this attitude reflected in the narrative told by the recent media coverage on this topic—especially with the amount of attention that Portland is getting without having done much, aside from showing a tiny house rendering that included an in-unit kitchen and bathroom.

This leaves us with a tough decision. I think we all agree that plumbing the houses would be a good thing for improving the quality of life at the next village, but we're also wondering, at what cost? Will it jeopardize our grassroots approach founded on volunteerism and modest private funding? Plumbing adds a lot of cost and formalities to the table. Not just in the infrastructure additions, but more so indirectly in the resulting site development costs and city reviews and fees, such as system development charges (SDC). These costs could necessitate federal funding, and in doing so, would limit these projects in a similar way as traditional affordable housing and rental subsidies, which is consistently underfunded in the U.S. The project would still be dramatically cheaper than conventional projects (as seen with Olympia's Quixote Village), though this would be primarily a result of a reduced physical footprint rather than a project led by non-professionals.

It also makes me wonder—have we forgotten the common use of outhouses in the U.S. in the not so distant past? Or that most of the world still relies on this method? And we are talking about flush toilets. Co-locating them in one facility rather than in each unit may be an inconvenience, but it is difficult for me to buy into the idea that it is substandard or inhumane. This is the exact kind of logic that has led to the prevalence of homelessness in American culture. By limiting the definition of "home" to middle-class standards, the gap between the street and housing has been continued to inflate.

So we are still left with this dilemma: More housing or more plumbing? Do we add more plumbing and earn wider public acceptance of the tiny house village on a national scale? Or do we continue to push cultural norms in an effort to provide more housing and  influence wide scale change? One thing I know for sure is that the difference between homelessness and a home without in-unit plumbing is far greater than the difference between the latter and a home with in-unit plumbing.

... Any thoughts?