Berkeley nonprofit attempts to build first ‘tiny house youth village’ in the U.S.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Berkeleyside – By Daphne White

Berkeley may become home to the first tiny house youth village in the country, at least if homeless advocate Sally Hindman has her way.

“If Berkeley is going to have success with tiny houses, we have to start somewhere,” said Hindman, founder and executive director of Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA). YSA works with about 150 homeless and housing-insecure youth every year, offering them job training skills, art jobs, nonprofit management skills, and now, construction skills.

Hindman believes the first five tiny houses can be be up and running in about 18 months, well before the city’s planned Pathways Project for the  homeless is operational. YSA is working with the city to get permits to place these five houses in the large lot behind the group’s offices, at 1740 Alcatraz, as well as an adjoining property they are about to lease. The lots are already zoned for residential/commercial use.

In addition, Hindman hopes to build 20 more tiny houses and place them in a lot the group has identified in West Berkeley. The timeline for that “village” will depend on when the leasing and permitting process is completed for that site. YSA must also raise several hundred thousand dollars for the community house that will provide bathroom, kitchen and social facilities for the youth living in the tiny houses. Each house measures eight by 10 feet and does not include plumbing. YSA plans to contract with a professional management company that will serve as a landlord for the West Berkeley village.

The 25 tiny houses are part of a more ambitious YSA campaign to create “100 Homes for Homeless Youth” over the next 10 years. The next phase will be the purchase of five homes in South and West Berkeley that can be converted into group houses for five homeless youth each. The final phase, which may take eight to 10 years to complete, will consist of a large affordable housing project that will provide 50 units of youth housing.

“We want to be in the pipeline as soon as funding becomes available,” Hindman said. “Right now every affordable housing project is on hold until the city’s Berkeley Way project is completed. We can’t even apply for money from the Housing Trust Fund now because all that money is tied up.”

Current BUSD data lists 105 homeless high-school students in the Berkeley Unified School District, and 295 homeless students in total. Hindman estimates that, on any given day, there are as many as 400 homeless and unstably housed/couch surfing youth, ages 16 to 25 in our community.

“Tiny houses make a lot of sense given the housing market in Berkeley,” said Osha Neumann, staff attorney at the East Bay Community Law Center. The center is helping YSA with the legal part of the approval process. “There is a lack of low-income subsidized housing, and we’re not going to find apartments that the homeless can rent. The question is what is Berkeley willing to do to deal with that situation. So far, it hasn’t done very much.”

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