By Meghan Hall
The tiny house revolution has taken the U.S. by storm, and now it has found another, often noble application. In recent years, many organizations have begun employing these modularly constructed, easily moveable units to combat the housing crisis, as they provide not just shelter, but privacy and all of the basic necessities in one convenient unit. At the end of May, Goodness Village, a California-based non-profit opened its own tiny home community to offer affordable, permanent and supportive housing for unhoused residents in the Tri Valley.
According to Goodness Village, 57 percent of people experiencing homelessness in the Tri Valley area were residents of Alameda County for ten years or more before losing their homes. 83 percent of those who are homeless lived within Alameda County for a year prior to losing their dwelling.
Prior to kicking off the project. Crosswinds Church Pastor Chris Coli traveled to another tiny home village in Austin, Texas, to learn more about how the development could work.
“In Austin, we learned about the successful collaborative efforts behind Community First! Village to mitigate homelessness with a transformative community to care for and serve our friends who yearn for a permanent place to call home,” said Coli.
The first phase of the master-planned community features 28 homes developed on acreage provided by Crosswinds Church. All units have a kitchen, bathroom and bed. Also on site is a two-bedroom home for community kitchen and laundry, vocational services and community engagement, as well as a garden and pumpkin patch. The property also features a number of walking trails.
“The great team of volunteers and community groups made it a real joy working on Goodness Village,” explained Gates & Associates’ President Casey Case. Our goal in the landscape and planning was to help create a village-like setting for these tiny homes and the residents, to foster a real sense of community, just on a much smaller scale. We wanted to create inviting outdoor spaces with a warm, welcome feeling, with resilient landscaping, walking paths, barbecue areas and lighting.”
The second phase–which is not yet funded–will include a community barbecue pavilion, a larger laundry facility and a makers market for the creation and sales of resident-made art and goods. The Village will also include a vocational program, mental health support, substance abuse and service and case management.
The project came to fruition through the efforts of many, according to the development team. HomeAid Northern California, a non-profit housing provider, and builder Trumark Homes completed infrastructure and site development. The two firms also partnered with Teichert Construction to deliver $400,000 in donations to the project. FIRM Foundation Community Housing acted as project managers, and further support was received from KTGY Architects, Tennyson Electric, Gates & Associates, Wood Rodgers, and others.
“The savings brought to the project from the building industry allows Goodness Village to use their precious resources to provide critical services for the formerly homeless people who will be living in the tiny homes,” explained HomeAid’s Cheryl O’Connor.
Goodness Village’s Livermore tiny home community is not the first in the Bay Area. In February of this year, a 25-unit tiny house village opened in San Jose at 801 N. First St. Called Casitas de Esperanza at the Civic Center, The units each total 100 square feet and in all, the community can accommodate 100 people. The community also features bathroom trailers, as well as a 400 square foot community room. The community prioritizes unhoused families.
Over in Hayward, the First Presbytarian Church of Hayward has also recently completed its own tiny home project. Built in the church’s parking lot, the goal of the community is to help homeless and unsheltered individuals transition into permanent housing. Currently, the community can house between six to 12 individuals in six mobile housing units. The units total 150 square feet, and the community opened in February of 2020.
Tiny homes have become a unique solution as the region’s homeless crisis has become more acute. Over the past decade, the unhoused population in the Bay Area has expanded rapidly; between 2017 and 2020, the homeless population grew by 6,878 individuals to a total of 35,118, meaning that the Bay Area now accounts for more than a quarter of the growth in total U.S. homelessness, according to a report released by the Bay Area Council.
Homelessness has increased as available housing supply has dwindled and prices for units continue to rise. At the end of the first quarter of 2021, even those rental rates had dipped slightly, average asking rates still came to $2,260 per month. For studios, rents came to $1,756 per month, according to data from Kidder Mathews, while three-bedroom units are, on average, renting for about $3,000 per month.
For many in the Bay Area, these prices are difficult to afford. As many as one in three Bay Area residents, more than 1.5 million people, are considered very low income and earn between $54,000 to $60,000 per year, states an analysis from Bay Area Equity Atlas. About 16 percent of Bay Area residents are considered “low” income and make between 50 to 80 percent of area median income (AMI). As the region’s housing imbalance continues, many of these households will continue to be adversely impacted, making initiatives such as Goodness Village increasingly important.