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Homeless advocates pick land for tiny home village

MSU and HRDC are teaming up to possibly create Bozeman’s first tiny home village…trying to tackle our growing homeless and at risk of being homeless populations.

Homeless advocates pick land for tiny home village
By Katheryn Houghton Chronicle Staff Writer Mar 4, 2018

Tiny Homes, MSU & HRDC Partnership

Some Bozeman folks are more comfortable living outside or relying on shelters when it’s cold. One local nonprofit says it has a plan to connect that small but growing population to steady housing.

After more than a year of searching, Bozeman’s social service agency HRDC has land picked out for the city’s first tiny home village. The agency is in contract for property on the northeast part of town, close to Bozeman’s current seasonal Warming Center on Industrial Drive.

Tracy Menuez, HRDC’s community development director, said she’s not ready to announce the exact location. She said they’re still evaluating whether they can afford to develop the land to hold 30 to 50 homes and a new three-story resource hub.

“But that will be public information soon,” she added.

Menuez said the goal is to provide a community for Bozeman’s chronically homeless, people who either struggle to afford a home or haven’t wanted one for a long time.

“If we’re not providing people with wraparound services in a really intentional manner, they’re not going to succeed in permanent housing. Many of them have tried,” she said.

The estimated $7 million project began just more than a year ago in partnership with St. James Episcopal Church and the Montana State University School of Architecture, which is designing the homes.

Tiny homes have a reputation as a well-to-do millennial’s version of their parent’s Volkswagen van.

But using the idea for people who consistently don’t have a place to live is something that nonprofits, churches and cities are starting to tap into across the nation.

“We’re not building these smaller units because they’re cool or trendy. The reason that they’re becoming popular is because they’re working for people who cannot live in a multi-family setting,” Menuez said.

MSU Professor Ralph Johnson said the school looked at examples, including communities in Seattle, Dallas and Olympia, Washington.

As the plan goes at the moment, the village would include small units — between 160 and 200 square feet — each built for one person. The units include a half bath and kitchen with a refrigerator, sink and place for a cooktop.

At the core of the community would be an HRDC base with village offices, mental health services and a clinic on the first floor. The next two floors would house a new warming shelter.

“One of the questions we’ve had is, ‘Isn’t this pushing homeless people into one area in our community?’” Menuez said. “We feel like it’s actually bringing them into our community, where they can get the services that they need whereas they’ve sort of been on the periphery before.”

HRDC would act as the landlord to the future tenants, a move that relies on the city of Bozeman creating rules for transitional and emergency housing. Those guidelines are in draft mode and waiting for the city commission’s final approval.

Each home has about a $12,000 price tag for building material and construction cost. Menuez estimated that could go up to $28,000 to create a foundation for the unit and connect it to water and electricity.

She said while that could be more expensive than an apartment complex, it’s less expensive than people living on the street.

A 2017 study put out by HRDC and the Montana Healthcare Foundation found that people who are chronically homeless in Bozeman cost service providers on average $28,000 a year. They got that number by examining records for eight local residents who’d been homeless for at least a year.

And Menuez added, it might have better success than other housing projects that offer residents shared walls and space and the inevitable sounds that come with that.

“If they’re already struggling with trauma or mental health issues, all of that noise becomes really overwhelming. And living outside feels more viable,” she said.

Each resident would pay 30 percent of their monthly income toward the housing.

Menuez said the community is more than transitional housing. She said that’s partially because in Bozeman, there’s not a lot of housing options for people to transition into.

According to the city’s most recent housing survey, Bozeman’s rental market is tight with roughly 5 percent vacancy rates.

For some people, the village could serve as home for 18 months to two years as they work toward something else. Menuez said for others who want it, it could be their home forever.
Source: Homeless advocates pick land for tiny home village