Tiny Houses as Solves for Cities

Tiny houses, or micro-homes, may change the game when it comes to finding affordable housing solutions or addressing homelessness.


The city of Los Angeles has been cracking down on a particular set of tiny houses built as a private gift to homeless people, while cities like Olympia, Wash., and Portland, Ore., have shown how more formal tiny house projects are a solution for homelessness. Some cities and towns, like Chippewa Falls, Wis., are now aware of tiny house initiatives in their constituencies and are trying to figure out how to address them. But the city of Fresno, Calif., is actually leading the way in how local governments might address these proposals with the nation’s first zoning rules involving micro-homes.

Homeless Housing Projects

Portland’s Dignity Village, “the longest-existing, continually operating, city-sanctioned Homeless Village in the United States,” according to its website, became an official tiny house village in 2004. Similarly, the tiny homes in Quixote Village in Olympia, which have housed 30 people since Christmas 2013, have roots in a tent encampment moving from one church-owned site to another.

In 2008, faith leaders in Olympia formed a non-profit partnership called Panza that obtained a 40-year lease of city-owned land. By leveraging grants, Panza hired professional architects, engineers and contractors to build the now-permanent community. Since that time, the non-profit coordinates services for Quixote residents that address health issues and job training, with six of the 30 residents reportedly pursuing secondary and higher education degrees.

Washington ranks sixth in the nation for its homeless population, according to the Association of Washington Cities in its recent CityVision magazine.

Quixote Village has been open for a little over two years now, providing housing, a kitchen, a living room, showers and bath facilities, and a coin-op laundry to its 30 residents, but the reach extends further,” according to author Rachel Sandstorm in Home Less, Home More1.

Charitable, Thorny Ideas

In South Los Angeles, city sanitation workers are tasked with removing some of 30 tiny houses on wheels built by Elvis Summers. Starting with a popular GoFundMe campaign, Summers was building 6- by 8-foot houses, at a cost of $1,200 each, according to National Public Radio2. Several sources noted that the city’s position is that Summers’ tiny houses aren’t built to code and may not be safe. What may be playing a role in the city’s crackdown is where some of the seized tiny homes were located—on overpasses, etc...

The tiny houses the Landmark Christian Church in Chippewa Falls are working on, in response to a homeless shelter closing in 2014, will cost between $5,000 and $7,0003. But they still need to work with the city on how they’ll be approved.

I’ve been involved in discussions on potential locations. I’m not quite sure where to put it,” said Mayor Greg Hoffman.

Affordable Housing Alternatives

In January, the city of Fresno, Calif., passed the nation’s first local ordinance for tiny house zoning4. Any Fresno homeowner can now park a tiny home on wheels for use as a second dwelling—even as a rental unit. Whether its for eco-conscious or economic reasons—tiny homes are potential affordable housing alternatives. According to author Sasha Khokha in Fresno Passes Groundbreaking ‘Tiny House’ Rules, Fresno-based manufacturer California Tiny House creates state-of-the-art, 270-square foot homes on wheels for about $45,000.

Then in February, the state of California issued a bulletin on tiny homes5:

As residential structures, tiny homes must receive one of several types of state or local government approvals prior to occupancy, depending on the design of the structure and the location of its installation.”

With some rules in place—like how they should be built and where they can be located—tiny homes could prove to be a huge pieces in local governments solving affordable housing and homelessness challenges.


1 (page 7) https://www.awcnet.org/Portals/0/Documents/Publications/Cityvision/2016/Cityvision0116.pdf

2 http://www.npr.org/2016/03/03/469054634/la-officials-bring-the-hammer-down-on-tiny-houses-for-homeless

3 http://www.leadertelegram.com/News/Front-Page/2016/03/28/Church-group-builds-tiny-houses-for-homeless.html

4 ww2.kqed.org/news/2016/01/19/fresno-passes-groundbreaking-tiny-house-rules

5 http://americantinyhouseassociation.org/category/state/california/

Andrea Fox is Editor of Gov1.com and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.