Richmond to Consider Tiny Houses for the Homeless

A tiny house in Opportunity Village Eugene, Oregon. (Courtesy of SquareOne Villages, formerly known as Opportunity Village)

Richmond is next up in looking at tiny houses for temporary relief to rising  homelessness.

The idea is modeled after two similar ongoing projects in Washington and Oregon, where residents live in village-style houses ranging from 60-80 square feet for $30 a month and communal work shifts, according to a Richmond City Council staff report.

Richmond Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles introduced the idea to the City Council in January, hoping it would serve as temporary housing for families who are homeless or transitioning into affordable housing.

“What I’ve seen is the effect that it has on the children’s ability to learn in school,” says Beckles, “When children are displaced so often with nothing stable -- not a stable place to live -- it creates a lot of anxiety and trauma for them.”

At a meeting Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to research the feasibility of developing tiny houses in the city, after reviewing a staff report on similar projects.

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The report described them as an "affordable" and "environmentally-friendly" option.

One of the cited projects was Oregon's “Opportunity Village Eugene,” a 29-unit village that houses 30 formerly homeless adults.  Village units are equipped with electricity and Wi-Fi, and a central building houses cooking, showering and laundry facilities.  

The project’s website lists operating costs as roughly $1,800 per month, with an initial $212,000 for building. Another project in Olympia, Washingtonlists initial costs as $3.05 million, with both state and federal funding received.  

Beckles says she’s hoping to follow in Olympia’s footsteps in utilizing outside funding if the City Council approves a similar project.

One supporter of a future tiny house village in Richmond is Yvonne Nair, founder and CEO of Saffron Strand Inc.  The Richmond-based nonprofit works with homeless individuals in Contra Costa County to help them secure work and financial independence.

“When people don’t have housing and they don’t have a place to go, it’s hard for them to get a job,” says Nair. “Housing is such a critical part, and why not think creatively, such as the small houses?”

When asked if she believes the project is feasible for Richmond, she said she does, but emphasized the need for supportive services to go along with the houses.

“You can give them housing,  you can give them a lot of resources, but if that psychological piece is not there, it creates more dependency [than] it does independence,” says Nair. “All they’ve been doing is surviving and they’ve lost a lot of their skills in integrating back into the community. And it’s for us to help them do that.”

Nair says Richmond has the necessary programs and resources. It’s just a matter of connecting them together for a “continuum of supportive services.”

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“If any city can do it, Richmond can,” says Nair.

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