A digital mock-up of the Tiny House Village shows several small homes surrounded by grass, walkways, and plant life.

A digital mock-up of the Tiny House Village. (Courtesy of Sally Hindman)

This spring, Youth Spirit Artworks is going to build a Tiny House Village for homeless youth in the East Bay. The village—which will be ready for move-in by fall 2019—could be the first youth-focused Tiny House Village in America. (Disclaimer: YSA is the publisher of Street Spirit.)

The seeds for this youth-led, model affordable housing project were sown back in March 2016, when over a dozen homeless young people who felt “stuck” in Berkeley’s youth shelter held a meeting to discuss how they might engage in community organizing to create change. At that first meeting, youth expressed frustration about the dire affordable housing shortage in the East Bay. Some of the youth shared that they had been staying off and on at the shelter for as long as two years. With all their worldly belongings crammed into 3 ft x 3 ft lockers, they had no privacy and were tired of living on the floor of a church.

It isn’t that youth don’t appreciate the shelter, it’s that no matter what they do to better their situations, there simply aren’t enough affordable units anywhere they can be placed into. All the affordable housing projects in the East Bay are full—with multi-year waitlists of literally thousands of people waiting to be chosen for the first free unit that opens up.

But from that first rich dialogue in March 2016, hope sprang forth. The youth began to envision what it might be like to create an affordable housing community outside of Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA), where homeless youth could pay rent and live affordably in a wonderful arts-focused village of tiny houses.

Since then, YSA’s Youth Leaders have worked like crazy tending their dream. The youth decided that the tiny homes will be built on trailers, making them easily moveable. The village will also make use of solar energy for electricity and heating. Per the youth’s instruction, we are working on creating a “lease to buy” option for young people who become part of the community. And, the youth designed a Program Model for their village, including a community covenant and other written guidelines for the structure of the community.

A group of YSA's youth leaders huddle around a computer as they work on a prototype design for the tiny house village.
Youth Leaders Working on Prototype Design with Architect Dan Edleson (Courtesy of Sally Hindman)

With this plan in hand, the youth’s vision for the Tiny House Village will begin to blossom in spring of 2019. We are going to host 12 build days throughout April and August, and by the end of the summer, the houses will be completed. In all, there will be 25 tiny homes and two community spaces, including a shared living room, kitchen, and bathrooms. The final house model was designed by six youth, who have already built a prototype of one of the houses with the help of volunteer architect Dan Edleson and mentor-contractor Tre Brown.

Now all that’s left is finding a site for the village. Youth Leaders will work with University of San Francisco architecture professor Seth Wachtel in the spring of 2019 to design a master plan for how to develop the site, once it is secured. Below is an outline of the next steps our Youth Leaders will be taking as they continue to make this dream a reality—and how you can get involved. 

Community Organizing and Identifying Sites 

YSA hopes to identify at least a temporary site for the “builds” as early as January 15, 2019, while we finalize the permanent site for the village. We are particularly interested in identifying a religious congregation that might be willing to allow us to carry out our “builds” on a parking lot, or another congregation-owned property.

For the permanent site, YSA is currently looking for city-owned land in Oakland and Richmond for the Tiny House Village, but we remain open to other East Bay sites. 

Inch by Inch Row by Row—Interfaith Congregation “Builds” and Partnership Support 

A key element of the process YSA is using to create its tiny houses will involve work with the interfaith religious community. There are four Lead Congregations offering financial resources, as well as core volunteer supports in the “build” process. YSA was thrilled this fall when Berkeley’s Congregation Beth El agreed to make our Tiny House Village their 2018/19 Tikkun Olam project, serving as our first committed “Lead Congregation.”

Now, YSA will be approaching over fifty East Bay congregations and religious institutions over the next four months as we organize 60 to 100 volunteers for each of the 12 build days we will be holding. We are excited to enlist any and all congregations in the effort. 

A Model for Other Cities Around the World 

In summer 2018, Youth Spirit Leaders had the pleasure of meeting Aboubacar Komara, a recent UC Berkeley Deptartment of Architecture graduate. In 2018, Komara received a Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize to create a tiny house village in Guinea, Africa. Youth Spirit Leaders voted in September to create a “sister relationship” with the Guinea Project, in which YSA youth and Komara’s project would continue to share ideas and experience.

The vision expressed in the meeting is that each of the 25 houses in YSA’s Tiny House Village might be developed to represent different cultures around the world in which tiny houses could serve as a solution to affordable housing. In this way, Youth Spirit Leaders will not only be developing perhaps the first youth Tiny House Village in the United States, but also leading the way in developing an affordable solution to poverty and slum-housing globally.

With thousands of people homeless, sleeping on our sidewalks and in tents, many people living in the East Bay believe that the dire housing crisis facing our poorest citizens is intractable and unsolvable. Youth Spirit Artworks Leaders are developing a project that shows a creative and uncomplicated solution to homelessness that is both affordable and replicable—as we continue to build diverse forms of long-term affordable housing.

Here’s how you can get involved with YSA’s Tiny House Village project

To get involved as a Committee Volunteer:510-282-0396  shindman@ youthspiritartworks.org
To make a donation via PayPal or Kindful:www.youthspiritartworks.org
To donte frequent flyer miles:admin@youthspiritartworks.org
To learn about how your congregation can get involved:Hannah@ youthspiritartworks.org

Sally Hindman is the Executive Director of Youth Spirit Artworks.