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Why Homeless Tiny House Projects Are Hurting The Modern Movement

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This post is an Op-Ed guest post by author Andrew Odom of Tiny r(E)volution and reflects his personal opinion. Please read and respond!

I am no stranger to controversy in regards to my writing. I have written about a number of topics that have caused heartache in the tiny house world. But this might knowingly have me ousted for good. Doesn’t matter. I’m gonna say it anyway. I’m gonna call bunk.

I think homeless encampments, villages, and the like are hurting the modern tiny house movement and the damage may be irreparable.

The No. 1 argument for tiny houses being used for the homeless is that they offer a shelter and a sense of ownership. To this point, I agree. No, no I don’t. Tiny houses offer shelter. I’ll agree to that. But a sense of ownership? Nope. When you do not pay for something outright, you don’t own it. You are borrowing it, leasing it, renting it, etc. That is just how our society is set up. We are a capitalist society. To borrow from Wikipedia (which I understand is a set of definitions edited and managed by crowd-sourcing):

Capitalism is an economic system and an ideology based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system, and competitive markets. In a capitalist market economy, decision-making and investment are determined by the owners of the factors of production in financial and capital markets, and prices and the distribution of goods are mainly determined by competition in the market.

In short? If you don’t produce it, manufacture it, or purchase it outright, you don’t own it. And that is a pattern developing within these homeless communities. The budgets are set through private donations, corporate donations, in-kind bartering, and more. The vast number of these tiny houses are being awarded to a recipient. That is not ownership. That is borrowing for a set amount of time under an established set of rules. If ownership is to provide a sense of pride and purpose, what does the very lack of ownership do? Does it establish a negative self-image, a feeling of worthlessness, or a confirmation that you belong to someone else; anyone else!

The other primary issue is that tiny houses are not sustainable in that they are not affordable and don’t have a resale market, so to speak. They simply are not “cheap housing”.  As of 2016 the average cost of a DIY tiny house was right at $23,000 while the average cost of a custom built tiny house was $71,700. So here we are asking a company or a private donor to give $20k and then watch as their investment is turned over to someone who didn’t pay a dime for it. They are squatters by definition accept they have permission to be there. Let’s take a second and look at the real cost, shall we?

According to homeadvisor.com the average price per square foot on a traditional sticks ‘n bricks is $171 per square foot. Multiply that by the average size of a tiny house ($171 per square foot X 213 sq.ft.) and you arrive at $36,423 for a custom tiny house. So now we are looking for donors who will help others build a tiny house to the tune of near $36k. That number doesn’t cover maintenance, lifetime use, etc. The investment is poor at best no matter how you look at it.

So how does this affect the overall modern tiny house movement? Projecting the idea that a homeless person can be given the key to a tiny house valued at $36k, without having to work for a penny of it (granted, every community I have researched requires building labor to work towards tenancy), is causing the average American to think that DIY tiny houses are affordable, plausible, and a perfect solution for homelessness. But wait! Does that mean we are growing too comfortable hearing the words homelessness and tiny house in the same sentence? Are we slowly putting ourselves into a corner wherein politicians and townspeople alike see tiny houses as little more than a place to put the homeless in an attempt to keep them off public property or out of sight?

Let’s face it. Saying anything is ‘homeless housing’ is to cast a shadow on it and add a bit of a social stigma. Again, it is just our culture at this time. Because of being for the homeless they may be considered “less than” or inferior in some way. I loved living in my tiny house and I want to return to one when the time is right. But will I be able to or in time will we have relegated them to be just for the homeless? If so, wouldn’t that put us further in the hole than we already are? Would tiny houses be even less of an option to the average American than they are now?

I long to hear your opinion. There is no doubt that homelessness is a serious problem in America and there is no one reason as to why people are homeless. But using such a (dare I say) simple solution to deter homelessness is foolish. What do you think? Do you have any ideas that may assist in providing shelter to the homeless in a safe and encouraging way?

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