Tiny House Villages (THVs) are a growing solution for restoring dignity.
January 13, 2022 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Tiny House Villages (THVs) are a housing first solution that can create a sense of ownership, security, and dignity for residents. For example, Community First! Village in Austin Texas is expanding its 200-unit community of tiny houses and campers, surrounding community kitchens, workshops, health services. The Hope Factory in Seattle Washington has created an assembly line process for volunteers to build 4 tiny homes each week.

The oldest THV I can find is Second Wind Cottages, in Upstate New York, founded in 2012.

Los Angeles has purchased over 1000 tiny home units from Pallet Shelter, and is establishing multiple THVs.

Detroit, Michigan has built permanent tiny houses on vacant lots. Residents who rent (paying $1/square foot in rent) for 7 years become the owner of the property.

OM Village is a self-organized cooperative built around a greenhouse and community workshop. They are expanding and building more villages in Wisconsin.

Researchers in 2020 identified over 115 THVs across the USA
posted by rebent (35 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I've been doing research into THVs lately, and I have been blown away at the stories from the residents. It seems like a tiny house gives someone the opportunity to really OWN their space, regain a sense of security and pride, and take the time they need to rebuild their life.

Most of the THVs I found have on-sight case management, and it seems the case management, mental health support, and rehousing support is more effective in a THV because these services all report that a great barrier to success is locating, contacting, and working with their client.

THVs are expensive, no way around that. Much of the price of a development are for land, utilities, permits, and design. The units themselves seem the cheapest part of the THV. That said, many THVs are created by volunteers using donated materials, with different levels of permanent construction based on the most effective solution for that location.

Finally, I'd like to share this poem that convinced me a tiny home is different than a subsidized apartment unit:

Poem by Fall Hyde, Whitter Heights Village Resident
See the red door to my tiny home
It stands there so tall and proud,
I can leave here on a floating cloud.
It has its own lock and key, don’t you see?
I can leave my treasures behind ever so safely.
Having to fear dying of cold
Because my blankets were stolen,
My tent could not hold back the thieves.

With my husband dead, I was no longer safe.
With threats of rape on the flap of my tent,
There was no sleep.
Now when I come home at night,
I can rest easy.
No more restless nights due to fright.
I am safe and sound behind my red door.
When I turn around and hit the lock,
Sit on the floor without even a sound,

And thank God for my proud red door.

posted by rebent at 10:41 AM on January 13 [32 favorites]

I think the idea is great - particularly with onsite case management and resources. They're setting one up in Eagle Rock, right on the border of the tonier parts of Pasadena. As you can imagine, there was a bit of protest from the NIMBYs, but in my mind it's a good use for an underused parking lot.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:02 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Is there a difference between trailer homes and these tiny houses with respect to construction quality and sustainability? Not fishing here, I genuinely don't know.
posted by schroedinger at 11:03 AM on January 13 [11 favorites]

Thank you so much for posting this rebent! If folks haven't yet, definitely check out the link showing their assembly line process. Barb Oliver, the woman who runs the operation, sounds truly incredible.

American homeless has always felt like this terrible, symbolic microcosm for how this country handles human suffering. Homeless is everywhere, but we pretend it isn't. Homelessness is hard, but folks not experiencing homelessness often imagine it has a simple solution. Folks complain about the cost of these projects without realizing how expensive homelessness is for all of us, housed and unhoused alike. And maybe what gets me the most: homelessness gets reduced to someone's personal failure to protect the person who already has a house from believing this could ever happen to them.

These projects make me so happy. It takes a lot of people to to just get them off the ground. That's a lot of people who have thrown out the ridiculous notion that homelessness is someone else's problem to solve. That's a lot of neighbors, friends, and family who now know someone who sees homelessness as not just solvable, but imminently solvable, if we're truly ready to view people without homes as people.
posted by Avarith at 11:18 AM on January 13 [9 favorites]

Really taking off here in the Maritimes
posted by aeshnid at 11:21 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]

I think this is good. Trying it is definitely good.

The snarky asshole in me wants to point out that large multi-unit buildings are really efficient. My furnace in a hundred year old building was out for nearly a year ('cause I'm lazy) and it was pretty comfortable even when it was -10C outside. I spend a lot more on parking than utilities. There's no fundamental reason large buildings need to be owned by landlords or unaffordable. That said, I have no idea how to make more cheap good ones in my city. And tiny houses exist and often don't require spending a decade fighting zoning laws. So, cheers!
posted by eotvos at 11:25 AM on January 13 [16 favorites]

schroedinger, I don't know either, but one of my hypotheses is that tiny house housing is leveraging the "this isn't cheap like trailers! it's cute and classy!" effect that, mm, probably oversells tiny houses to rich people too. Which, if it works, brilliant to use it even if it isn't theoretically the most cost-effective thing.

re eotvos' point, why it would work better than multi-unit buildings with adequate on-site services -- which AIUI work quite well -- again my hypothesis is that it takes large amounts of capital to build the former, even without zoning fights, and tiny house villages on temporarily-un-built-up land can be built with incremental investment and effort, so can get the incremental gains that persuade people to keep working on it. (My other hypothesis is that noise bothers a lot of people much more than is admitted, and air-gaps can be cheaper than shared walls with real sound isolation.)
posted by clew at 11:40 AM on January 13 [9 favorites]

Not the same thing, but I know a guy who did advocacy around homelessness, and in 2009 he convinced his city to turn over some of the repo houses to his clients, usually as communal living. After more than a year, they had had problems, but most of the houses were in good shape, with the residents working to keep the grounds and houses reasonably clean, doing repairs, and preventing the blocks from spiraling out of neglect. Social services loved it, since it save so much time, there were fewer hospital visits, and even the police were in favor because “nuisance crime” was down. The city stopped it, despite its obvious positive effect on the budget, because… I don’t know… f*ck the homeless, I guess?
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on January 13 [14 favorites]

I'm guessing that, since Tiny Houses (individually and in a flock like THVs) are easier to move than buildings, neighbors worried about property values can take a wee tiny bit of comfort in the villages' relative lack of permanence. Yes it's stupid, but when dealing with the clutchiest of pearl-clutchers, anything that makes them feel less hostile is a benefit.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 11:55 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]

>Is there a difference between trailer homes and these tiny houses with respect to construction quality and sustainability?

Tiny houses are much simpler and more durable than ordinary RVs or mobile homes. Think snug summer camp cabin- most all the surfaces are wooden/can be scrubbed or bleached, it's weather tight, may or may not have extra insulation and electrical, but no running water. The ones in the following page's video lack any inner amenities, but have the nicest surface finishes of what I've seen from Seattle https://humaninterests.seattle.gov/2021/10/18/rosies-tiny-house-village-opens/

Having had some THVs nearby before I even knew about it, they seem like great places for getting people off the street/out of emergency shelters. Provided with decent support services and moderate rules about behavior/keeping all things inside, they're excellent neighbors.
posted by cult_url_bias at 12:13 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

My work is primarily focused on serving people who are homeless. Tiny homes can be safer than tents, but I think it's pathetic that our 'solution' to the housing crisis is putting people in shacks. We need to build more apartment buildings and subsidize people to live there. For that to happen in the US, local municipalities need to nuke their zoning laws and the federal government needs to spend money on housing people again.
posted by latkes at 12:31 PM on January 13 [33 favorites]

Downsides of tiny houses: frequently not elevated enough to deal with flooding, and at least the ones I know in Portland cannot legally be heated

Again, as mentioned above by latkes, they are usually safer than tents (a lockable door is a huge selling point), but they share almost all the disadvantages of tents at a much, much higher cost. For a specific subset of unhoused people they might be the right solution, but for most people, actual housing in a building with a furnace and running water and a working sump pump is going to be much more ideal for most seasons of the year.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:06 PM on January 13 [11 favorites]

Is there a difference between trailer homes and these tiny houses with respect to construction quality and sustainability?
Well, at least these are new units, so they should be in better shape than a lot of mobile homes.
posted by eckeric at 1:10 PM on January 13

Tiny houses might well be more mobile than mobile homes, yes? AIUI the latter are designed to be cheap to the point that they can only be moved once.
posted by clew at 1:26 PM on January 13

Tiny homes can be safer than tents, but I think it's pathetic that our 'solution' to the housing crisis is putting people in shacks.

My understanding is that this is a transitional step—providing people with comfort and security right now. Larger societal issues have to be addressed to “solve” the problem, but immediate housing is a response to the “we can’t solve the problem now, so we can’t do anything” contingent.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:30 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

My worry/cynical assumption is that policymakers will see projects like this and say "yep, we've solved it" and wash their hands of the issue. I can only imagine the "they've got homes now, right?" responses, even when said houses are glorified garden sheds at best.
posted by fight or flight at 1:45 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

It is theoretically a transitional step but in reality there is no available subsidized real housing to transition into for the majority of the recipients. I say this after serving homeless folks in the SF East Bay since about 2015 - few people 'transition' into permanent housing because there is none. NIMBYs prevent it's local construction and both Democratic and Republican administrations refuse to fund it at the federal level. Also, ever increasing income inequality means there are ever more people falling from poverty into destitute.
posted by latkes at 1:45 PM on January 13 [13 favorites]

To be clear, tiny houses are a good thing - I am trying to get a client into one now - but they are a massively inadequate resource and I'm sharing my personal emotional response to them which is shame and rage at the political choices being made that provide this instead of a home.
posted by latkes at 1:47 PM on January 13 [17 favorites]

Vancouver's been following a Housing First strategy using temporary modular housing, with the provincial and federal governments providing funding. Each unit includes a kitchen and bathroom. (They're based on housing used to set up work camps in remote areas.)
posted by russilwvong at 4:44 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Sorry for taking up so much space in this thread but I just want to apologize to rebent: this was a thoughtful post that took care and work. I could have phrased my critique of these projects in a way that made room for that.
posted by latkes at 4:52 PM on January 13 [13 favorites]

Latkes, I don't think it's possible to work in the housing system without being incredibly angry about how much it hurts people. I found your comments to be very enlightening, and much appreciated :-)
posted by rebent at 4:56 PM on January 13 [12 favorites]

Latkes, please don't hesitate to comment. Commentary from people deeply involved in the subject of a post is one of the things that makes Metafilter great.
posted by mollweide at 5:52 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]

Real affordable housing is a better idea than Tuff Sheds + Today Show blandishments. As seen here in LA, where it's actually being tried.

It seems like a tiny house gives someone the opportunity to really OWN their space

Not in any meaningful sense of the word 'OWN.' What kind of title do you imagine they hold?
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:51 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

I'm part of the group of people working on this project in Atlanta. If all goes as we proposed to the city, there will be 2 floors in this building of studio apartments designed as supported housing, with the needed services provided in the office and community spaces built into the building. Most of the rest of the building will be affordable (below market rate) as well, so that folks who can transition out of the supported housing have a place to go.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:23 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]

the opportunity to really OWN their space,

Yes, I agree absolutely. Some thvs, like community first! village, tell a story about people basically living there forever, and the Detroit thv literally plans to transfer ownership.

If a thv is started based on the idea of restoring dignity, I think it will work. If it's started to "get people off the streets (and out of my way)" then I think it would be disastrous.

Nothing will solve the problem of housing except more houses. As long as America is cool with great disparities of wealth, then there will always be a housing crisis.
posted by rebent at 5:04 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I always think of these issues in terms of women and children. There are so many homeless single mothers with children in tow. Tents are not a good option. I appreciated the reference to rape in the “red door” piece above. I think the oversight and resources in these small house communities is the key. I think often of the woman who was featured in 99% Invisible who lived out of her car with her autistic son. She was most often precariously housed. Couch surfing at times but these situations often deteriorated. I recall one she left because the people who owned or rented the place would yell at her son over some of his issues. She opted to provide a more stable environment in her car. A car plus a tiny home with services and hopefully a ladder to employment and better housing could be a stepping stone.
posted by amanda at 6:16 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

For that to happen in the US, local municipalities need to nuke their zoning laws and the federal government needs to spend money on housing people again.

I was under the impression that the same zoning laws that prevent more high density low-income housing from being built also exclude tiny homes from many communities.
posted by Selena777 at 9:52 AM on January 14

I was under the impression that the same zoning laws that prevent more high density low-income housing from being built also exclude tiny homes from many communities.

That is 100% true. Most cities require minimum home sizes and minimum lot sizes, mostly to prevent tiny homes (of the traditional kind - 2 bedrooms 1 bath !!!) from being built.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:10 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I was under the impression that the same zoning laws that prevent more high density low-income housing from being built also exclude tiny homes from many communities.

Aren't these tiny homes usually done in pilot projects or with other special exemptions leaving the rest of the city's zoning the same?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:03 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

So, I'm homeless. I've been homeless for roughly 8 months this year. I was sleeping in my car in late October, and I'll be back to sleeping in my car on Monday. While trying to do take classes this semester at a community college where rhe classes are 90% zoom because of covid. You can't reserve rooms in advance at the local library for the privacy of a zoom call because of covid, and if you're lucky enough to get one when you show up, you can only use it an hour. Most of my classes are 2.5 hours.

My entire skin is in this game.

Tents fucking suck for even short-term solutions. You can't lock them. I can't imagine how you'd heat one safely long-term. You can't put an actual mattress in one. You don't have internet. Should I go on? Some of the comments make me so mad.

Also, my dad lives in a trailer. His heating bill is three times what my mother's three bedroom house is. Rodents chew through trailer material and plugging holes is a near-constant battle. Yes, they're seen as trashy and cheap for good reasons. But a trailer would still be better than a tent. A tiny house (~400 square feet) is better than either a tent or a trailer.

Building subsidized housing is not a solution. Have you ever been in a position of begging a government agency and trying to prove you fit in their categories? Good fucking luck. And the rents raise constantly. And you can get kicked out. Now if people could own their apartments, that's different.

I haven't been late on rent in 20 years, and I've left every place in good condition and gotten my deposit back. I've never broken a lease. But I have been unable to rent a place for the last three months because rent would use 80-90% of my social security check (ive lived on this budget for 10 years and ive made it work in that I always pay rent on time. I have offered to pay four months up front, in addition to deposit. I've offered references and a cosigner. No one will rent to me. I've paid for multiple application fees and it's been wasted money. I've begged. I've called repeatedly. And I've hit the point where roommates aren't an option, because I've had too many of them do bizarre and frightening things (including two cases of sexual assault) and I just cannot deal with that anymore. I'm on every housing waiting list there is and have been for years (some waiting lists are so full they're not even open). Ten years ago I had to lie to get a "low income" (unsubsidized) apartment and get fake pay stubs from a friend who owned a business (friend aold business, so not an option currently). I lived there for three years and always paid on time. Then I lived with roommates for a while. Subsidized housing is a shitty answer, but I'd take it, but I am not winning that lottery. Hell, I'd take a safe spot to pitch a tent. But I need a bloody place to do my zoom classes this quarter, and a place to sleep that's not my car (I had surgery recently and stretching out is not possible in a car, resulting in pain and poor sleep, not to mention the cold, and driving from rest stop to truck stop to park, watching the other sad trickle of homeless people with cars at every place.

I *yearn* to own something that if I put work into, I don't have to leave. I want something to keep nice and say, I have a reason to be proud of this tidy little space, these modest few feet where I, like the rest of humanity, control my tiny little universe. Part of the worst part of being this poor is the total lack of control of everything.

I'd really like to hear from more people who are or have been homeless in this thread.
posted by liminal_shadows at 3:47 PM on January 14 [25 favorites]

Tiny homes can be safer than tents, but I think it's pathetic that our 'solution' to the housing crisis is putting people in shacks. We need to build more apartment buildings and subsidize people to live there.

Seattle seems to be doing both. Tiny house villages and subsidized housing in units in the 7 story mega-block condos that are springing up like mushrooms on Broadway.

Well, at least the tenants in the latter will have the luxury of running water and flushing toilets.

Meanwhile, tents fill the downtown parks and live-aboard RVs line the streets on the the way to the Ballard Fred Meyer mega-store and the covered Northgate Shopping mall. All are lined with too few construction site porta-potties because no plumbing, no flushing toilets.

The parks get swept because the strung out homeless meth addicts are hell on anything metal, stone or concrete -- Cal Anderson Park is tagged on every square foot of each.

I walked by the traffic light control box on Broadway and Pine where some dude was going to town with a monster can of spray paint and Oh.My.God. -- the fumes were choking me from thirty feet away. I hated to think what they were doing to him.

The police sweep the parks periodically and drive the tent dwellers to another park or to under I-5 on the west slope of Capitol Hill where they camp between the pillars and there are no porta-potties at all. Which makes for a very shitty situation indeed.

And me, I'm old, poor and terrified that I'm going to be on the street any day myself.
posted by y2karl at 5:49 AM on January 15

A tiny house (~400 square feet) is better than either a tent or a trailer.

The THV projects I'm aware of in Los Angeles use 64 square foot units made by Pallet Shelter. It's explicitly transitional housing. I have no doubt it's better than being on the street, or in a more typical shelter but it doesn't address the problem of permanent housing that does afford a livable amount of space, and real control over it (as you say).
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:40 PM on January 15

Thanks for sharing your story liminal_shadows.
posted by latkes at 1:39 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

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