December 11, 2023


Regardless of shifting in to her new digs only a month in the past, Darlene Pizarro and her white canine, Angel, are already regulars on the native canine run.

Pizarro’s new place shouldn’t be fairly a metropolis neighborhood and the place she lives isn’t fairly a house, however a tiny house, one among 94 city-funded models for the homeless at that lot. However Pizarro, who final lived as a squatter in an deserted home, was relieved to be there.

“Tiny house” describes a selected kind of housing extra everlasting than a tent or catastrophe shelter, however lower than a single household house, townhouse, residence, or one thing else considered everlasting housing. The constructions — smaller than 400 sq. toes, typically missing both a kitchen or non-public toilet — have turn out to be more and more widespread in California’s response to homelessness over the previous 5 years, although opinions are cut up on how a lot to depend on them in years to come back.

Branford Village Tiny Properties in Solar Valley opened on Thursday, February 9, 2023. The positioning, a former homeless encampment alongside San Fernando Highway, can home 161 folks. (Photograph by Sarah Reingewirtz, Los Angeles Day by day Information/SCNG) 

The positioning of Pizarro’s tiny house, on Guadalupe Parkway within the metropolis’s downtown, opened in Might as the most recent of San Jose’s six websites that intention to fill the steps between conventional, congregate homeless shelters — suppose “room filled with bunk beds and cubicles” — and an residence of 1’s personal.

It boasts all of the fixings of what homeless advocates say are greatest practices for momentary housing:

  • Individualized case administration permitting residents to remain so long as they should get everlasting housing
  • Laundry and kitchen services
  • The privateness of particular person rooms that lock, with private bogs
  • Different components that emphasize residents’ dignity, just like the canine run and weekly group occasions.

Tiny properties are typically referred to as modular properties or, within the case of San Jose, “emergency interim housing.” The town is all in, working greater than 600 such beds throughout six websites and constructing extra. Mayor Matt Mahan attributes to them a latest 10% decline within the metropolis’s unsheltered inhabitants, and notes that of the 1,500 folks the town has sheltered in its tiny house websites, 48% moved to everlasting housing. That’s in comparison with a median charge of 34% throughout Santa Clara County’s shelters over the previous three years.

Tiny properties are more and more California cities’ shelter choice of alternative for brand spanking new websites to accommodate the homeless. Tasks have have been constructed or are deliberate throughout Southern California. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration earlier this 12 months stated it’s sending out 1,200 models statewide. San Jose and Sacramento, every set to obtain a whole bunch, just lately stated that they had chosen their websites; as of October the state continues to be choosing distributors to construct the properties.

“They’re our single greatest resolution to the disaster on our streets,” Mahan stated.

The rise of the tiny house

Mahan’s zeal to open extra tiny house websites received him in sizzling water this 12 months in an age-old debate over which finish of the housing scarcity to deal with: momentary or everlasting.

Advocates of tiny properties say they’re quick, low-cost methods to get folks sheltered instantly. Different longtime homeless advocates applaud tiny properties as improved shelter choices, however are cautious about over-relying on them within the long-term resolution to homelessness.

“Non-congregate tiny properties are higher than congregate shelter, however persons are nonetheless homeless after they reside there,” stated Jennifer Loving, CEO of the nonprofit Vacation spot: HOME, one of many major companies coordinating Santa Clara County’s response to homelessness. “You might be getting some extra homeless of us into momentary shelter, however what in regards to the hordes of individuals dying for an inexpensive place to reside?”

In June, San Jose officers diverted $8 million of the town’s $137 million in homelessness and housing funding from growing inexpensive housing to working and constructing extra tiny properties.

Mahan initially proposed placing 36% of the housing funds, which come from a 2020 property gross sales tax, towards momentary housing and 53% towards everlasting housing for low- and middle-income households (the rest would go towards rental help and administrative prices). He referred to as it a one-time diversion to handle the homelessness disaster on the streets, whereas ready on inexpensive housing that may value greater than $1 million a unit within the Bay Space and take years to construct.

Advocates and a number of other metropolis council members pushed again on what would have been a dramatic shift from previous spending plans, which put three-quarters of the funds towards growing inexpensive housing and 15% on shelter. The town handed a compromise price range that put 68% of the funds towards everlasting housing and 21% towards momentary.

Loving stated the one option to maintain momentary websites profitable is to maintain growing everlasting housing for residents to maneuver into.

“Individuals are bored with seeing homelessness and so they’re saying, ‘Do one thing, now,’” Loving stated. “I believe these non-congregate shelters are being positioned because the, ‘We’re doing one thing now.’”

Whereas California cities have been putting in tiny properties for no less than the previous 5 years, it was the pandemic that thrust the potential resolution into the highlight.

California has for the previous decade been shifting its focus from momentary shelter in the direction of constructing everlasting supportive housing: inexpensive, long-term dwelling choices that include social providers. Everlasting supportive housing models have been on the rise since 2008 in California because the variety of momentary spots fell, in keeping with an evaluation of federal information by the Terner Heart for Housing Innovation.

However with a world pandemic and a document variety of Californians falling into homelessness quicker than the state may home them, officers turned towards non-congregate however momentary choices like lodge rooms and tiny properties to maintain folks sheltered. In 2021, interim housing spots in California once more exceeded everlasting supportive housing models for the primary time since 2015.

A way of privateness

Additionally making the websites engaging are a bunch of modular housing firms springing as much as supply tiny properties which might be extra livable.

In comparison with flimsier and fewer fireproof prior fashions that evoked catastrophe zones, many tiny properties now embody double-pane home windows that may open, particular person thermostats and doorbells. In San Jose, one web site the place the town broke floor this 12 months will embody some tiny properties which have non-public kitchenettes.

Although not all cities use them, many firms construct modular models with en suite bogs, which residents say present considerably extra privateness and dignity.

A new tiny home community in San Jose on Oct., 10th, 2023. Photo by Talia Herman for CalMatters
A brand new tiny house group in San Jose on Oct., tenth, 2023. Photograph by Talia Herman for CalMatters

It was the bogs that satisfied Pizarro to simply accept a suggestion of shelter on the San Jose web site final month.

The 67-year-old has been homeless 5 years and didn’t belief conventional shelters, the place she stated “you need to sleep with one eye open” to evade theft. With a steady place to sleep, Pizarro says she plans to search for retail work and apply for a housing voucher to get her personal everlasting place.

“I’m very hyper and lively, and I prefer to work as a result of I do know if I sit round, I’m going to fade away and I’m not prepared for that but,” she stated.


Others aren’t able to plan their subsequent steps but. Monica Rojo, 50, moved into her room in Might after having lived at a creekside encampment with about 70 others.

As a girl tenting alone, she feared violence always. She now feels safer, and since getting her personal bathe, she now not feels the disdain of others when she walks into shops. She’s customized her room with photographs of her three grownup youngsters in Mexico — two engineers and a nurse, she beams.

Rojo, a former janitor, stated she’s recovering from leukemia and despair and dealing on getting her IDs after most of her paperwork had been stolen.

“This program opens the doorways, for work, for every little thing,” she stated.

Advocates cut up on tiny properties

The extra every tiny house appears like an actual one, the extra it prices — and the nearer it inches to the “actual housing” that advocates say is what truly solves homelessness. In San Jose, plumbing and utilities for the Guadalupe Parkway web site drove the price of every unit from $30,000 for the construction itself to greater than $175,000. (A number of the value was lined by philanthropy, metropolis officers stated.)

Mahan’s conscious of the tradeoffs. However he stated he’s putting the best stability by pushing for momentary shelter that’s dignified, whereas of us look forward to everlasting housing.

“Everyone knows the 2 extremes,” he stated of the spectrum of housing choices, from camps to everlasting supportive housing. “One is form of the proper resolution, or as near it as you may get. The opposite is abject human distress and completely unacceptable. I’m of the opinion that we’ve got to spend extra, we’ve got to place extra of our emphasis on the decrease rungs of the ladder, the aspect of the spectrum that’s enhancing on sanctioned encampments.”

Some within the tiny properties motion would take it even additional.

Resident Johnny Nielson walks through the DignityMoves tiny home village in downtown San Francisco, on Oct. 3, 2023. The program provides interim supportive housing to individuals experiencing homelessness. Photo by Loren Elliott for CalMatters
Resident Johnny Nielson walks via the DignityMoves tiny house village in downtown San Francisco, on Oct. 3, 2023. This system gives interim supportive housing to people experiencing homelessness. Photograph by Loren Elliott for CalMatters

Elizabeth Funk is CEO of DignityMoves, a nonprofit advocating for tiny house shelter websites. Greater than two years in the past the nonprofit received San Francisco’s solely tiny properties village to this point arrange in mere months, with donated constructions on a sliver of a metropolis car parking zone. Residents can keep so long as they want, with common entry to social and well being care staff on the 90 constructions. Funk stated the positioning takes benefit of quite a bit that’s within the yearslong wait of being developed into housing; the constructions could be simply relocated when the challenge breaks floor.

DignityMoves pushed a invoice within the state Senate this 12 months to permit non-congregate, relocatable tiny house tasks to bypass sure allowing procedures, and direct cities and counties to make accessible empty land for these makes use of. The invoice initially outlined such tasks underneath the state constructing code as a kind of housing, reasonably than as momentary shelter. Funk even steered utilizing housing vouchers to pay for them.

She stated she didn’t count on the controversy she sparked. A gaggle of advocates pushed again on the invoice, arguing that, as Alex Visotzky of the Nationwide Alliance to Finish Homelessness put it, “it blurred the road between housing and shelter.” Sharon Rapport of the Company for Supportive Housing identified that sure shelters already can bypass allowing restrictions.