To a growing number of people, tiny homes represent an alternative path to home ownership, eliminating the need for onerous mortgages. That is especially true for many marginalized people experiencing homelessness, for whom tiny homes can also mean a second chance at life -- through access to stable, affordable housing or even outright home ownership.
However, the tricky issue is finding land -- a problem that all potential tiny housers face, regardless of their situation -- but in the case of housing the homeless in tiny house developments, such well-meaning initiatives can meet strong opposition fueled by NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard).
But one such non-profit in Syracuse, New York is overcoming some of these significant hurdles, helping veterans facing homelessness by building them tiny permanent homes. A Tiny Home For Good (THG) was started by 27-year-old Andrew Lunetta, a recent Le Moyne College grad who was motivated to start THG by a desire to put an end to the cycle of homelessness.
During college, while most of his classmates were out partying on weekends, Lunetta would be volunteering at local soup kitchens and homeless shelters, where he gained insights into some of the underlying factors behind that vicious cycle. As Lunetta explained to us, low-income housing given to people facing homelessness is often inadequate and unsafe:
Through my work at the homeless shelters in Syracuse and the relationships I formed with individuals facing homelessness, it became abundantly clear that housing within the price range for individuals facing homelessness did little to foster long term stability. Many people would move back to the shelters or live on the streets because they were safer and more dignified than the available housing. So, A Tiny Home for Good was founded in November of 2014 in an effort to provide affordable, safe, and dignified housing to individuals facing homelessness.
Tiny homes may have a lot of cute cachet as they slowly gain mainstream acceptance, becoming the focus of television shows and professional building companies. But as Lunetta tells us, building them for people threatened by homelessness wasn't easy. In the case of THG, the biggest hurdle was not raising funds or zoning regulations, but finding land and most of all, community approval:
The biggest obstacle was acquiring property. It was a full year of informing potential neighbors, painful community meetings, and rejection after rejection from neighborhoods. The stigma that surrounds homelessness was strong enough to rally entire neighborhoods around the idea of keeping THG out of their backyards. It was not until early 2016 that THG decided to purchase a vacant lot. At that point we could get started.
So far, THG has built five tiny homes with the help of volunteers and interns, most of them around 240 to 300 square feet in size, costing around USD $22,500 to build and equipped with basic furnishings and amenities. They have also renovated a two-family home for vulnerable families. In contrast to the community approval process, Syracuse's city codes and zoning regulations department have been "incredibly accommodating," and it was not difficult to get these tiny homes permitted, provided they are not built on trailers and had no lofts.
Another great aspect of the project is how it is structured to give support yet encourage a dignified independence: residents take on a one-year lease, rent is determined on a sliding scale and capped at 30% of a person's monthly income, and residents are given the chance to connect with a local care management organization for help to manage their case, if needed.
THG's focus is now turning to historically vacant lots in the city, with the aim of rehabilitating them for more tiny homes. Yet another possibility is revamping well-located but vacant apartment buildings, and renting them at mixed rates. It makes sense, as tiny homes alone won't solve homelessness. It's a complex issue, and tackling it effectively will require a multi-faceted, community-driven approach like the one being undertaken by A Tiny Home For Good -- as well as communities opening their hearts and eyes to see past old prejudices. It's all about how each one of us seeks belonging, says Dolphus Johnson, one of the first residents to move into THG's tiny homes, in his own words:
I do think that this tiny house project is more than a physical structure, it's an idea that people care about each other in this community. [..] I think that the hope is that people find each other and see each other's humanness in there. We're all on this planet, and we all have a purpose. I think hope is a vital component for human life, like air, and it helps sustain us.
To find out more or to donate, visit A Tiny Home For Good.