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Is This the Solution to Homelessness?

By E Singer
Apr 1st, 2014

tiny house movementActivists looking to solve the nation’s chronic homeless problem have come up with some interesting solutions.

Tiny houses could help give the homeless the safety net necessary to let them escape from a vicious cycle of poverty. This is the hope of people like Alan Graham, the founder of community first. His organization has already lifted 100 people out of poverty.


The Logistics of Building Small Houses

The houses being built are funded by private donors without any government support. They are approximately 100 square feet each. Some of them have functioning pluming and even a kitchen, which is somewhat remarkable considering how small they are. Depending on the amenities they have they can range in price from $100 to $5,000.

One organization in Eugene Oregon has managed to create homes for 45 people for less than $100,000. As a matter of comparison the median price for a single family home in Oregon costs around $200,000. Some people in neighboring communities are concerned with what the residents of these new low cost living quarters will be like. But there are guidelines to get into one of these homes. Residents must behave responsibly, refrain from using drugs and help with maintaining the properties.

One program in Utah has shown promise in moving the residents of the micro houses off the streets. That program has had a success rate of 74% in moving the chronically homeless into more permanent dwellings. This has given proponents of the tiny house movement encouragement as they seek to expand to new locations across the country. It costs taxpayers nearly $35,000 a year to support the homeless when they are incarcerated. By contrast, some of the tiny houses being built are funded by private donors for less than $11,000 per person. The implications this has on the housing market in these areas are sure to be beneficial as well.

Other Potential Applications for Tiny Houses

Of course, the homeless aren’t the only ones who struggle with housing issues. Millions of people barely make enough to pay their rent and get enough food for their families. These are ultimately some of the very people who are in danger of becoming homeless and in some cases do become homeless.

Not very many people would want to deliberately stay tied to a house the size of a jail cell. But the growth of the tiny house movement does have some interesting implications for those looking to buy a house for the first time. In particular, could the principles used to create the tiny homes be used to make affordable homes that are more permanent in nature?

It’s an interesting question. Smaller houses with simply the bare necessities that are developed efficiently and cheaply could certainly go a long way towards helping more people become homeowners. These smaller homes might sit on only a small section of land and be supported in part by renewable sources of energy like solar.

The problem is that the market ultimately determines how much a house is worth. Aside from the addition of government (or private) assistance to pay for a mortgage, the homeowner will always feel the weight of market forces. In the meantime, however, it’s encouraging to see at least the neediest get a little bit of help as they potentially become new homeowners.