January 28, 2016 11:15 pm
Updated: January 28, 2016 11:45 pm

Victoria adapts West Coast trend of tiny-home villages for the homeless

WATCH: Victoria city council is looking into whether "tiny houses" used in Seattle will help temporarily solve its homeless problem. Kylie Stanton reports.


It’s a tiny solution to an entrenched problem: building micro homes for the homeless.

Earlier this week, Seattle opened its own tiny home village. Consisting of 14 homes at 96 square feet on donated church land, each unit is heated, insulated and comes with electricity, and the communal washrooms and showers have running water. The structures cost $2,200 USD to build (raised through donations), and residents pay $90 USD a month for utilities.

Seattle’s first tiny home village opens.

Graham Johnson / KIRO7

Now Victoria is looking into creating one of its own.

A History on the West Coast

In fact, the very first tiny home village was Dignity Village built in Portland, Oregon in 2001. The land originally hosted a tent city, and through the work and advocacy of non-profit groups and co-operation from Portland city council, volunteers built a small village of tiny homes where it remains today.

The structure of the typical tiny home village is much like Seattle’s. Residents have their own individual shelter space to sleep, and share communal areas like washrooms and kitchens.

Portland’s Dignity Village, established in 2001, was one of the first tiny home villages ever.

Kwamba Productions

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Since then, tiny home villages have sprouted up as a solution to homelessness in many different cities: Village of Hope in Fresno, California; River Haven in Ventura, California; Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon; Quixote Village in Olympia, Washington and most recently, in Seattle.

Many of these tiny home villages have become strong, vibrant communities.

Could it work in Victoria?

In May 2015, Victoria city councillor Ben Isitt pitched their own tiny-home village to council, calling for a $200,000 pilot project. In June, the City committed to workshopping what a tiny home village would look like in Victoria through a $25,000 grant to the Micro-housing Victoria committee.

BACKGROUND: City of Victoria plans micro homes for the homeless

And now, according to the committee, Victoria won’t be copying the U.S. model wholesale. Instead, they’re pitching a “made-in-Victoria” solution.

Micro-housing Victoria’s Susan Abells says the committee, made up of housed and unhoused members, was wary of a solution that separates people from the larger community.

“We don’t want to be separate, and like “those” people. We want to be part of the community. So when we started looking for design, we realized that while the micro-housing in Seattle is an interesting concept, where do you put such villages in a city like Victoria?”

So the committee set to work coming up with a solution that would work in Victoria. They designed a six unit modular home. These homes would be built off-site in factories and they’re brought into to a site where they easily click together. The Victoria design contains up to six private bedrooms per unit, with  a common area, a full kitchen with seating for six, two bathrooms, two sinks and a bath and shower.

The best part?

“You can put one home for six people down if the site is big enough, or you can put two, three homes and in that sense, it’s a village. But really, they’re designed to fit into our community wherever space is available,” says Abells.

A Temporary or Permanent Solution?

While tiny home villages are meant to be short term solutions that are a step up from a tent city, they are not always temporary. Critics say some tiny home villages endure for years because there is a lack of affordable housing to move into from the village.

LEARN MORE: Are tiny homes the answer to affordable housing?

Victoria City Councillor Marianne Alto is well aware of the distinction, but allows that micro-housing could provide an important bridging gap until permanent housing is built.

“The city is involved with the region to create a huge amount of permanent housing available within a very short time. That’s still a couple of years away. And so the question becomes, what do you do in the meantime? And so microhousing becomes an important part of that solution.”

It’s also what’s on the minds of the very people the initiative is aiming to help. Andrea, a resident of Victoria’s tent city, says while the plan sounds good, but “permanent is the ultimate goal. Everybody needs to have a home. Everybody deserves that.”

While the committee is currently looking for partners and funding to get their micro-housing project on its feet, the City of Victoria has pledged to help facilitate any zoning issues and utilities. The goal is to get five sites and 10 houses up by this summer.

– With files from Kylie Stanton.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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