The 12 x 12 units have 96 square feet of living space and a porch, but no plumbing.
To some, tiny houses are impractical. But when it comes to a quick way to put roofs over heads in a pandemic, small is beautiful.
As zoning codes catch up with reality, tiny houses are becoming more than a rentable asset in a homeowner's backyard. They're taking shape as villages–- and shelter for the homeless.
El Cajon, the city with the highest concentration of homeless in the East County, approved a pilot project on August 11 unlike any other in the county.
The county's first tiny house community opened last year on Mt. Laguna.
"One program that has not been fully explored in the San Diego region is tiny house communities" to shelter homeless individuals, a city of El Cajon staff report notes.
The county's first tiny house community opened last year on Mt. Laguna, offering short- and long-term rentals or lots. From the city to the unincorporated county, San Diego has made it cheaper and easier for homeowners to build an accessory dwelling unit, which can be rented.
And this month California City, in Kern County, passed a law that will allow tiny homes to be built on land as single family homes.
But the pandemic is nipping at renter's heels, and San Diego's granny flats aren't all that cheap – or tiny. For example, a Craigslist ad for a 450-square-foot studio in North Park: $1,700. If you're homeless, a dwelling half that size is unaffordable.
Short on beds to serve the homeless, El Cajon declared a shelter crisis emergency in 2018. The city council has funded various homeless programs such as rapid re-housing, rental assistance, emergency housing, and partnerships with non-profits – but this year's point in time homeless count found 784 people without shelter in El Cajon.
In August 2019, volunteers from Amikas, a nonprofit that works with the homeless, built a tiny home demo on Meridian Baptist Church's property, where the temporary cabins will be located. The goal was to develop a community of up to six shelters, but the property at 660 South Third Street wasn't zoned for the envisioned bridge housing with wrap around services – so a zoning change was made.
The homes-to-be will have wheels or a standard wood frame, but framed cabins will require a building permit, which takes more time. The project will start with administrative approval and a zoning permit, and sunsets on December 2023.
The first village of six homes will provide shelter for up to 90 days for homeless women, especially veterans, and their children. The 12 x 12 units have 96 square feet of living space and a porch, but no plumbing. The church will make bathrooms, and possibly showers, available. (The tiny homes on wheels could have toilets and cooking facilities).
Similar villages may follow. Staff is looking for residential properties, at least 1.5 acres, to expand the idea where zoning allows. So far they've identified 13 sites with the potential to yield more emergency housing.
Amikas president Shanna Welsh-Levin said they expect the pandemic to increase homelessness as jobs are lost or parents are forced to trade work hours for child care when the daycare closed.
The homes will be built in the coming months, and Levin urges similar collaborations by other non profits, property owners and housing providers.
"We hope the success of this pilot program will be replicated throughout the county of San Diego."