Tiny homes hold big housing aspirations

The interior of a MicroPAD unit, intended to house homeless and very low income individuals, has the amenities of many single room occupancy units. Pictured is a bed, desk, storage, kitchenette and the LED-lit bathroom wall.
Panoramic Interests/Courtesy
The interior of a MicroPAD unit, intended to house homeless and very low income individuals, has the amenities of many single room occupancy units. Pictured is a bed, desk, storage, kitchenette and the LED-lit bathroom wall.

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On the corner of Milvia Street and Allston Way, a demo of a 160-square-foot modular unit shows a potential living environment for Berkeley’s long-term homeless and low-income population.

The outside of the unit — designed by San Francisco-based Panoramic Interests — reads “CITYSPACE MicroPAD,” which stands for Prefab Affordable Dwelling. The city will be requesting Tuesday that the city manager identify city-owned lots where approximately 100 of these modular, stackable units can be constructed and run by a nonprofit.

If the request moves forward, the city manager would also be asked to amend the permit and approvals process to facilitate quicker approvals for below-market-rate housing.

“We subscribe to the housing-first model, which is you’ve got to get someone a home before, basically, they get back on their feet,” said Michael Thomas, director of business development for Panoramic Interests. “So I’d say the first part of getting someone (to be) a productive member of society is getting them a home.”

Inside the one-person unit, large glass windows provide the resident with natural light. The units are designed with an entry “mudroom,” kitchen space, a bedroom area, a bathroom, desk, drawers and storage closets.

The solid steel bed frame doubles as a sitting area looking out to the openable glass windows, which is prefabricated with blinds. Units are designed for independent living with individual electrical submeters and they accommodate pets.

“It’s perfect — bathroom, shower, kitchen, bedroom. For the single person, it’s enough,” said Hari Pandey, a Berkeley business owner and Richmond resident who was viewing the MicroPAD.

City Councilmember Ben Bartlett was inspired to quickly increase the number of housing units for the homeless after seeing a prototype of the modular units in Los Angeles. He said the existing housing units are filled and without more units, the number of homeless will only increase.

Panoramic Interests does not have plans to build units that serve a larger household size, but it is interested in working with other cities in the Bay Area and the country to house formerly homeless individuals.

Councilmember Bartlett said he is hopeful that these units can quickly house homeless and low-income individuals. Mike Wilson, an organizer with First They Came for the Homeless, however, raised questions about how individuals are selected, where the project will be located and streamlining the city code for future affordable housing.

Bartlett’s plan is for the company to build MicroPADs above an existing city-owned parking lot. He did not disclose the locations his office is considering.

Although Bruce Wilson, an Oakland resident who toured the home, said he believes the units would help house the homeless, he added that he generally does not support tiny homes because they do not provide the homeless with adequate living space.

“(Tiny homes) perpetuate the idea that some people deserve to live in mansions … and other people in small places,” said Wilson.

The MicroPAD will be on display through Tuesday and is available for viewing Monday and Tuesday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Pamela Larson covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @pamreporting.