Tiny Houses, Big Impact

Tiny houses for homeless residents may be the future of temporary housing programs.

Street of tiny houses

Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington, is one of several tiny house villages around the country that provide housing for the homeless.

Photo by Panza

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Tiny houses are having a moment. From blogs to reality TV shows, the idea of downsizing and living with less is catching on. For example, Portland, Oregon, which allows for zoning of tiny houses (called Accessory Dwelling Units or ADUs by the American Institute of Architects) saw a 150 percent increase in ADU permits over five years, from 35 in 2010 to 250 in 2015.

But these diminutive dwellings, which measure less than 1,000 square feet, have proven useful for more than just resource-conscious homeowners. Cities around the country are using tiny houses to create temporary and affordable housing for their homeless communities. Tiny house villages — such as Portland’s Dignity Village; OM Village in Madison, Wisconsin; and Second Wind Cottages in upstate New York — provide affordable housing at a relatively low cost to local governments and nonprofits. For example, the homes in Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington, cost less than 100,000 dollars each to develop and build.

Many villages offer several small dwellings surrounding a central office or common area, which supplies bathroom, kitchen and recreational space. Using a mix of leadership among residents and volunteer oversight boards, the villages provide opportunity for residents to live in security while they pursue employment and permanent housing. As the success of tiny house villages has grown, so have resources for people looking to start similar models in their own cities. The Village Collaborative (thevillagecollaborative.net) provides models, community support, and an updated network of established and developing villages for those looking to get involved, whether through construction, donation or other volunteer opportunities.