‘Small, but important’: Berkeley resident looks for place to put tiny home

Jan Sturmann/Courtesy

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Berkeley resident Jan Sturmann has built four tiny homes in the past five years — he’s almost done building his fifth, and it’s looking for a home of its own.

Sturmann, who used to work in construction and is now a photographer and videographer, said tiny houses are an affordable housing solution. In a flier, he said he is looking to put the house in an accessible backyard in Central or South Berkeley.

The newest house, built on an 8- by 16-foot trailer, includes a kitchen, bathroom with a toilet and shower, office, two bedrooms upstairs and a sky deck.

“It is no secret that California is in a huge housing crisis,” Sturmann said. “People are either leaving because they can’t afford to live here anymore, or they’re living on the streets, or they’re trying to find accommodation wherever they can.”

In order to find locations to place the four previous tiny houses that Sturmann built, he said in the flier that he partnered with property owners who had accessible backyards and then rented out the houses at affordable prices.

As he looked for a place to keep his most recent tiny house, Sturmann began talking with Ashby Village, a local nonprofit that supports the East Bay elderly community. Sturmann said he then learned that many members of Berkeley’s elderly community are in need of personal caretakers but don’t want to move to retirement homes and also have underutilized backyards.

Sturmann said he then considered a solution in which tiny homes can be placed in the backyards of elderly Berkeley residents and instead of paying rent, inhabitants of the tiny homes could be caretakers for owners of the land.

“For me this solves a bunch of problems,” Sturmann said. “It helps the elderly stay in place and helps people that need housing to live affordably within city limits.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said tiny homes are a “small, but important answer” to the need for housing. But he said he is unsure of the legality of Sturmann’s idea to place tiny homes in elderly residents’ backyards, and that the city should create a policy explicitly explaining where tiny houses are allowed.

Youth Spirit Artworks, or YSA, an organization working on a “100 Homes for Homeless Youth” campaign, plans to build a tiny house village for Berkeley’s homeless youth. According to YSA Executive Director Sally Hindman, the group prefers public over private land when finding locations for its tiny houses.

“We want to work with a community that wants to support tiny houses and partner with us on this project,” Hindman said.

Contact Ronit Sholkoff at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RonitSholkoff.