LA 2020

Tiny Homes Offer Help for the Homeless

Two new tiny home communities, Alexandria and Chandler Tiny Home Villages, have opened this year in Los Angeles. They are perhaps the best solution put forward thus far in the effort to help the homeless in LA.

Los Angeles is known for spending mind boggling amounts to fix the homeless problem… yet somehow never getting anything done. We recently wrote about the government run homeless encampment in Los Angeles where they simply pitched tents in a parking lot with a fence around it… at a cost of $2700 per month per tent. Granted the residents are fed and some services are provided, but they are still living in tents.

There are projects to convert old hotels into housing for the homeless that have taken years to complete, if completed at all, clocking in with a price tag of as much as $700,000 per unit. This is the price of a luxury condo, not a refurbished hotel room! There was Project Roomkey to provide temporary housing for homeless during the COVID lockdowns in the hotel rooms that we sitting empty due to the restrictions. With a price tag of about 165 million dollars, only 5000 homeless ended up getting rooms.

The tiny home villages are still costly. They have drawn criticism, but they appear to be the best solution to help the homeless that the city has come up with so far.

Both of the tiny home villages for the homeless opened in 2021 and are located in North Hollywood. The first to open, the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village was the first to open and has 40 tiny homes in the complex. The second was Alexandria Tiny Home Village on Laurel Canyon Boulevard with about 104 homes. Additional tiny home villages are being developed in Reseda and Tarzana and will open later this year.

The first thing to catch my attention about the villages is that they have no negative impact on the community. They are fenced off with privacy fences and the surrounding area is kept clean. Security present at the villages keep the “undesirable” elements out.

The actual units are only 64 square feet and they are basically prefab pallet houses, or sheds. They have 2 beds, electricity, windows, air conditioning and heat… and a door that locks. Each unit comes with a price tag of about $8,300. But that is just for the unit.

When the cost of putting in the sewage lines, electric, foundations and the rest are factored in, each unit costs about $80,000 to $130,000. City attorney Mike Feuer said that the units are designed to last 5 years and would house a number of people over that time, thus bringing the cost of the housing down to about $4000 per person. However, that doesn’t factor in the costs of feeding the residents, utilities, maintenance and the social services provided.

The costs have drawn criticism, and it IS pricy. But short of the tents in the parking lot we mentioned above, this is the most affordable solution the city has put forward. The villages are run by Hope of the Valley, a local non-profit.

In the interview above with Chris Hernandez at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village, he discusses how the program works to assist the homeless transition from the streets and into permanent housing. In addition to various social services, Hope of the Valley also runs a job services center to help them gain skills and employment.

Despite various programs during the multiple lockdowns and business closures during 2020 – eviction moratoriums, unemployment benefits, and rental assistance programs – to assist people, Hernandez notes that homelessness in Los Angeles soared dramatically during COVID.

Hernandez also dispels many of the myths people have regarding the homeless and how they became that way. We spoke with a couple of the residents at the Chandler Village and were a bit astonished to see how different they are from the stereotypes. They were clean, did not appear to be using drugs or alcohol, delighted to be in the program and optimistic about their futures.

Our conclusion? Yes, they are expensive. It is difficult to understand how LA can make housing projects cost so much. But they are a bargain compared to some of the other efforts the city has attempted to house the homeless. They were completed rapidly. The time to build the projects was measured in months, not years. The Chandler Village has no negative impact on the neighborhood. The Alexandria Village may have actually improved the neighborhood as it was built on a park that had been overtaken by homeless and was in sad shape. It’s the best thing going right now to help the homeless.

There is however one caveat. Though many will be placed in jobs, most of those jobs won’t pay enough to cover the cost of renting an apartment in Los Angeles. The city has a dismal track record of building permanent housing for the homeless. Projects drag on for years and are built at costs that make luxury housing look cheap. Taxpayers also shouldn’t be expected to shoulder these costs. The real solution lies more along the lines of addressing the factors that have made housing so unaffordable in the first place along with the factors that have made wages buy so much less. I think we will also find this more basic than addiction as a cause of homelessness as it is looking at the prospect of not being able to earn enough to cover the cost of living that drives many to drugs and alcohol in the first place.

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