San Jose Builds Its First-Ever Tiny Homes for the Homeless

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Patti Wang Cross, with Habitat for Humanity, helps build a tiny home in San Jose, California on Aug. 17, 2019. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

On Saturday,  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo was just another volunteer building the city's first-ever tiny homes for the homeless.

Inside a small but lofty white structure, complete with a window, a proper wooden door and a slanted roof, Liccardo is attempting to put up the finishing touches — a shelf.

Volunteers are helping to build San Jose's first 80 tiny homes for the homeless.
Patti Wang Cross and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo spent the morning working in San Jose, California. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

"First lesson, put nails in the nail gun," he said.

Lots of learning is going on, both here at this staging area for San Jose's first 80 tiny homes, but also for the city — which during its most recent count, saw its homeless population spike more than 40% to over 6,200 in one year, even after managing to find housing for nearly as many over the past few.

"I talked to mayors up and down the West Coast routinely and this is always the first issue that's brought up in any conversation. 'Hey what's working. What are you trying?'" Liccardo said. "And we're exchanging best practices constantly."

Volunteers Eric Larsen (right) and Jared Slaybaugh measure wood in San Jose, California. (Sara Hossaini/KQED)

Other cities, like Oakland and Richmond, are doing small pre-fabricated and modular dwellings. San Jose's got its own take —custom constructions, thanks to four million dollars in city funds and the help of its partner Habitat for Humanity, an international organization that helps build homes at no cost.

"It's pretty aesthetically pleasing. I love that there was some thought put into the design here. It's a simple but habitable way for people to make that transition into permanent housing," said Patti Wang Cross, the group's spokesperson.

The first of two tiny home sites expect to start welcoming their inhabitants by October.