Sunday, August 10, 2014

Quixote Village: The High Cost of Federal Funding

The tent city Camp Quixote formed in 2007, and after years of planning, the camp closed at the end of December 2013 when the residents transitioned to the new tiny house village known as Quixote Village. After our visit to Dignity Village in Portland, Jeff and I headed up toward Olympia, Washington to see the newly opened village. 

The development includes 30 tiny houses at 140 square feet each with little variation aside from color. Each unit is wired with electric heat and plumbed with a bathroom in the rear. Along with a personal sleeping and living space the units are supported by a 4,000 square foot common building that includes a kitchen, dining room, living room, meeting space, staff offices, and restrooms with showers.



   



You can find the Rental Agreement for Quixote Village here.

The standard of living at Quixote Village is significantly higher than both Dignity Village and Opportunity Village, but it came at a cost. More specifically—a capital budget of $3 million for the 30-unit tiny house village.

The project received substantial public funding (including HUD CDBG grants), which came with formal strings attached that precluded many of the more informal elements found at DV and OV, such as volunteer labor. Instead, a low-income housing developer was brought in to manage and build the project, and residents moved in once the development was complete.

In my new book, Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages, I further discuss the implications of public funding for a grassroots model such as this. I'll conclude with an excerpt from that:


"A primary consequence of substantial public funding was that the project had to strictly follow a formal development process, similar to that of conventional low-income housing construction... Some residents contributed to the design of the village, but professional specialization does not consider the occupant—or the volunteer—to be a practical participant in the home building process. Labor costs were further driven up because the development required prevailing commercial wage rates, which are significantly higher than residential rates. Stormwater drainage standards required significant site excavation and grading that also contributed to the development costs. 

Furthermore, the process resulted in a standardized built environment with 30 identical tiny houses... The use of a single design greatly simplifies construction and permitting costs, which were already remarkably high considering the scale of development. So not only does formal development result in excessive costs, but it does so in a way that severely limits individuality and inextricably diverges from the organic process on which the self-organized tent city is founded.


At $87,500 per unit, the project has been touted as inexpensive in comparison to the average cost of new low-income housing construction, which is often estimated at upwards of $200,000 per unit. But because of how small scale of a project this was, the proportionally high costs expose the inflated nature of the building industry. This is often difficult to grasp in the context of large and complex buildings, but the absurdity of the status quo becomes transparent in the formal development of a 140 square foot tiny house. Quixote Village is therefore a testament of how the formal development process has become an inherent impediment to truly affordable housing." (p. 154, Tent City Urbanism)

I go on to say that I think the folks from Panza and Camp Quixote did a very commendable job given the standards they were held to. This is merely a critique of the consequences of this kind of public funding.

What are your thoughts on Quixote Village?



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