CDBG Spotlight: Tiny Homes for the Homeless

One big idea for solving homelessness comes in the form of a tiny house.

On December 24, 2013, 29 homeless men and women all got the chance to move into community of small homes called Quixote Village just outside of Olympia, Washington. They were residents of the former Camp Quixote, a homeless camp founded in 2007 that moved more than 20 times.

At 8 by 18 feet, the homes really are tiny, and include a bedroom, a toilet and a sink. An adjacent community center contains a kitchen, dining area, living room, laundry facilities and even meeting and office space for the residents to share.

But the residents don’t seem to mind the small scale of their new homes. One had lived outside in a tent for almost seven years. While they’re expected to pay 30 percent of their income toward rent, many are unemployed. Fifteen report no income at all. Most are recovering drug addicts.

There’s a real community spirit among those living in Quixote Village. Ever since its days as a tent camp, the community has been self-governing, with elected leadership and rules they drew up themselves. That tradition continued after the houses went up. The tenants even had a say in the design of the village. They collaborated with MSGS Architects to come up with a layout for the village. They asked for the cottages to be arranged in a horseshoe shape, and chose to give up a little living space in favor of a front porch.

Quixote Village sits on 2.1 acres that was once an industrial park. Thurston County, Washington, offered a 41-year lease on the land for $1 a year. The total cost for the entire village was around $3.05 million. $699,000 of those funds came from Community Development Block Grants, which supported the village’s community center. While the residents govern themselves, a nonprofit group called Panza secured the funding for the project.

Anna Schlecht, housing program manager for the City of Olympia, said the choice was made to fund the program using a Community Development Block Grant because it is one of the few funding methods the city has to support housing, shelter and social services projects.

“The greater Olympia community has been very excited about Quixote Village and how the ‘tiny house model’ offered such a positive solution to homelessness,” Schlecht said via email. She said that prior to the construction of the village, the self-governing Quixote community would travel from place to place as an organized camp that had little impact on crime rates.

This isn’t the only tiny-home village that will offer shelter to the homeless. In Austin, Texas, a similar project including 200 homes is set to break ground in the next several months. In Ithaca, N.Y., small homes have already been built as transitional housing, with more planned for the future. Quixote Village has gotten a few visits and phone calls from homeless advocates considering their own village of tiny houses.


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