After successfully opening the first youth-designated tiny house village in the United States in 2021, Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) wants to keep building. Founded in 2007, YSA focuses on empowering homeless and at-risk youth ages 16-25 throughout the Bay Area through their art-based jobs-training program. The organization is currently in the process of fundraising for a second Tiny House Empowerment Village, with the hope of breaking ground in Oakland in Fall of 2023. The second village includes plans for an additional 21 youth-designated tiny homes, and could open directly next to the first village, which is located at 633 E. Hegenberger Road.“We need to finish what we started,” says Reginald Gentry, the organization’s Interfaith Organizing Program Coordinator and former YSA youth team member, who helped construct the first village. “There isn’t enough low-income housing for youth. Youth are one of the most vulnerable demographics. They need more support.”
YSA began exploring the concept of tiny homes in 2016 after various of their youth participants could not find youth-designated beds in emergency and transitional shelters throughout Alameda County. The youth suggested that YSA should build this housing, and came up with the “100 homes for homeless youth campaign,” calling on the organization to begin the process of building 100 tiny homes in the years ahead.
By 2017, YSA’s youth team was designing and constructing a tiny house prototype in the space adjacent to the group’s offices, located on Alcatraz Avenue in South Berkeley. In partnership with the over 25 local congregations comprising YSA’s religious network, the group worked over the next two years to complete construction on several tiny homes. In 2019 the group was able to secure a 3-year lease on a City of Oakland-owned site at 633 E. Hegenberger Road next to the Coliseum. Now open, the YSA Tiny House Empowerment Village includes 26 tiny homes, communal bathroom and shower facilities, a community yurt, and a kitchen. Murals cover each tiny home and the ground beneath them, and colorful hand-painted fence planks adorn the fence surrounding the space.
With the successful launch of the first Tiny House Empowerment Village, YSA is excited to build on their momentum. According to Executive Director and Founder Sally Hindman, a second village is the next step in the organization’s 10-year “100 Homes for 100 Homeless Youth” initiative. YSA hopes to build their second village on a plot of land that is directly adjacent to the first village—currently being utilized by Covenant House California, which has plans to relocate their operations to the City of Hayward.
Building next to the first village would allow residents to effectively share facilities and services, which will include a medical community facility and a 1,400 sq. ft. community center space. Additionally, whereas the first Empowerment Village consisted primarily of the single-story, 70 sq. ft. tiny home prototype first developed by youth team members in 2017, YSA’s second village will include a mix of the single-story prototype as well as two new, two-story prototypes developed by the organization. YSA hopes that these three tiny home prototypes can be used as innovative solutions to the much larger housing crisis facing the Bay Area.
Since beginning to build housing , YSA team members have learned that there are over 4,000 vacant parcels of land across the City of Oakland. This has inspired them to try to take their prototypes and build on vacant sites throughout the city in the future.
“It’s a common sense project” says Hindman, and a “really great use of underutilized land in the city.”
YSA is currently fundraising for the organization’s second Empowerment Village, which is budgeted at an estimated $2 million. They’ve already fundraised over $400,000—part of which comes from a $1 million pledge by a private donor for the 100 homes project as a whole. YSA is now in the process of raising the remaining funds for the second village from private and public partners throughout the Bay Area. This includes assistance YSA is presently seeking from the City of Oakland, which provided $210,000 in capital funds towards the first Tiny House Empowerment Village along with another $360,000 in operating funds. Now, YSA is requesting $250,000 from the City of Oakland to facilitate development and operation of their second village, just 12.5 percent of the project’s projected budget.
On July 11, YSA and their supporters attended an Oakland City Council meeting regarding amendments to the City’s 2022-2023 Midcycle Adopted Policy Budget. One of these amendments is YSA’s request, which was included among other amendments related to homelessness programs. These amendments, along with YSA’s request, were ultimately tabled by council for discussion at the July 26th meeting. Despite the temporary tabling of amendments, Hindman and YSA remain optimistic, and have been having ongoing conversations with various council members and city staff persons regarding the second village.
“We’re trying very hard to stop homelessness when it starts, and that’s when [people] are young,” Gentry said at the July 11 council meeting.
Update: The vote on funding for the Tiny House Village 2 project that was scheduled to take place at the Oakland City Council meeting on July 26 was delayed, again, until the fall.
Alexia Rotberg is a resident of downtown Oakland with a background in urban planning and economics. She is passionate about equity, history, mental health, and the birds of Lake Merritt.