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