Update 04/18/18: This article has been updated to reflect information from homeless activist ‘Guy’ Mike Lee.
Twenty-five of Berkeley’s homeless youth will live in miniature residences in a community with on-site access to vocational programs by the start of the fall 2018 semester.
Youth Spirit Artworks, or YSA, is in the midst of developing its “tiny house village” project, which will replace the Ohmega Salvage architectural store in West Berkeley at 2403 and 2407 San Pablo Ave. The community of 25 tiny homes will house homeless youth and two to three resident assistant mentors.
In addition to housing, YSA will offer a “full range” of programs on-site, such as case management and social work, according to Aaron Mann, a volunteer for the tiny house project steering committee.
“The inspiration came from youth engaged in our program who had been living in a shelter for as long as two years,” said YSA executive director Sally Hindman. “This is a youth initiative project, and youth have taken a lot of leadership in envisioning it.”
The first building session will take place over three weekends in July and will create 12 to 13 houses for the first group of youth to move in. A second session is planned for the fall to round off the full 25 houses.
Those who will live in the housing are active participants in the YSA program. Hindman said she is excited about the role the housing and programs will play in helping youth reach their professional goals.
The tiny house village project is just “one prong” in YSA’s youth-led 100 Homes for Homeless Youth campaign, which aims to build 100 new affordable units for homeless youth in Berkeley, Hindman said. This campaign will include housing for 50 people ages 18 to 25.
“This is going to be a group of youths that is really high-energy and engaged in the community. We feel that we’re making a positive contribution to West Berkeley with this project,” Hindman said. “We’re responding to the displacement of longtime Berkeley residents who are leaving our community in droves … by creating housing that our Berkeley youth will be able to live in while they go to school.”
Though homeless activist ‘Guy’ Mike Lee called the project “laudable,” he expressed concern with some of its finer points.
According to Lee, only about 2 percent of the homeless community will have access to the tiny houses. He added that the project does not align with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, due to habitability.
“This project in effect sets up a caste system of good homeless people (youth) vs. the bad homeless people,” Lee said in an email. “For instance, a 72 year old man dying of cancer doesn’t qualify not because of need but because of age.”
YSA’s total budget for the tiny house village project is in the $1.2 to $1.4 million range and is privately funded, for the most part. The majority of that budget will be used on the community’s programs, resident managers and property management. This budget is the proposed operating cost for 18 to 24 months.
Rolf Bell, former West Coast regional director of Habitat for Humanity, is a member of the tiny house project steering committee. The houses from Habitat for Humanity served as models for the homes YSA has proposed, Mann said, as has Habitat for Humanity’s approach to organizing the building process.
“What I like about their vision is it creates a community. What youth need is a community,” said Councilmember Kate Harrison. “The land is there, it’s available. They’re making a really good use of an existing property.”