City considers ‘tiny homes’ program to help the homeless

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As part of the agenda for its Tuesday, July 18 meeting, the Richmond City Council will consider an ordinance initiating a pilot program that would create up to six tiny portable homes for local homeless residents.

The proposal comes out of the office of Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who cited several advantages to such a pilot program, in particular, the cost savings and expediency compared to other solutions.

While the mayor is interested in helping provide innovative transitional housing to help the homeless transform their lives, he says the tiny home villages being planned and built at various locales around the U.S. likely aren’t the most financially sound projects.

“These are permanent dwellings, each requiring its own foundation, and even though they’re tiny, they still require a water meter, PG&E hookup, et cetera,” he explained. “If you’re building multiple units, it’s a lot cheaper to build them into one multifamily structure.”

The advantages to tiny homes on trailers, however, are many, Butt said. They can be made fairly quickly and cheaply compared to permanent dwellings, for example, and their portability obviously makes them easy to move around.

“There’s a lot of flexibility to these,” he remarked, adding that his office has been inspired by a similar project in Fresno using tiny homes — and that a tiny portable home already exists at the UC Field Station in Richmond that could be instantly integrated into the program.

Butt added that by taking a ‘pilot project’ approach, Richmond can iron out any possible kinks, reduce concerns residents may have about such a project, and consider expanding the endeavor if all goes well. This “beta test” program would also allow the city to provide some homeless housing without changing city code or tackling the other challenges of implementing the concept on a wholesale basis.

The pilot program would intend to use the tiny portable homes with a ‘transitional housing’ philosophy, meaning each dwelling would help someone get back on their feet in terms of their health, financial standing and permanent housing opportunities before being turned over to another individual in need.

In practice, the city would provide the tiny houses but not the property to hold the portable dwellings, which would be placed on existing residential or commercial properties — alleviating the need for new electrical and sewage hookups. Butt is optimistic that if the plan can be fully approved by City Council before their month-long August recess, it could be implemented to some degree as early as September.

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