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.