Seattle project lets homeowners use backyards to house homeless neighb

4 years in the past, the house owners of a small single-family house in Seattle determined to volunteer the use of their yard for one thing new: They let a nonprofit construct a tiny sustainable dwelling within the yard and helped a person who had been homeless for a decade transfer in, rent-free. He nonetheless lives there, having constructed a detailed relationship with the homeowners. And 11 different homeowners have adopted, in a small however rising program known as the Block Project.

[Photo: courtesy Block Home]

“The neighborhood has to get entangled if we’re going to finish homelessness,” says Rex Hohlbein, an architect whose profession slowly transitioned to tackling homelessness after befriending an unhoused artist in front of his architecture studio, and who finally began the Block Project. “It’s approach too difficult to simply have a authorities program. It’s actually a complete shift in how a neighborhood acts and strikes ahead addressing the wants of probably the most weak.”

Hohlbein launched a nonprofit known as Facing Homelessness in 2013, after which, alongside together with his daughter, architect Jenn LaFreniere, got here up with a considerably radical concept. If it’s laborious to construct supportive inexpensive housing in a metropolis like Seattle, the place land is pricey and enormous development tasks can take years, why not ask native residents to share their backyards straight? Town already had zoning legal guidelines that allowed “accent dwelling items,” or yard homes. Because the idea of utilizing yard homes for homeless housing progressed, the town planning division helped present help to make it so simple as attainable for folks to construct.

This system isn’t supposed for everybody experiencing homelessness. Somebody with extreme psychological well being points can be higher off in one other setting that gives extra companies, for instance. However for others, it’s a approach to have steady housing and join with neighbors in an space the place they in any other case wouldn’t have been ready to stay.


Case managers from the company that referred every resident proceed to work with them after they transfer in. Workers members from Going through Homelessness present further help on targets that individuals set for themselves, from job coaching to organising wholesome habits, and the nonprofit additionally connects residents with volunteers from the neighborhood to construct relationships. Homeowners aren’t requested to do something apart from be good neighbors. Folks rapidly responded to the concept.

The tiny homes, at solely 125 sq. toes, have kitchen areas, loos, a sleeping space, and a small lined entrance porch. They’re designed to the strict sustainability requirements of the Residing Constructing Problem, with options like solar energy and rainwater seize and purification. “It was essential that we didn’t simply present a house that was assembly shelter wants, however that it might be this superior dwelling,” Hohlbein says. “Actually, it might be probably the most ahead dwelling on the block.” He wished, he says, to give the brand new residents the possibility to share one thing with their neighbors, serving to educate others how their homes is perhaps retrofitted.

[Photo: courtesy Block Home]

When a home-owner applies to take part, Going through Homelessness evaluates the yard to see if it meets the town’s allowing necessities for a yard dwelling, after which interviews the homeowners. To keep away from elevating the homeowners’ property tax, the nonprofit retains possession of the tiny house and leases a portion of the yard without cost in five-year stints, with the hope that the house owner will proceed to renew.

Companies refer unhoused individuals who they imagine can be an excellent match for this system, and Going through Homelessness serves as a matchmaker. The nonprofit additionally meets with neighbors to assist allay fears which may be based mostly on stereotypes about homelessness. The house owner performing as a bunch may also be an advocate, drawing on their very own relationships with neighbors to assist make the case for the housing.

There’s no expectation that somebody residing in one of many tiny houses can have to proceed to seek for different housing. “It’s essential to notice that we see this as long-term housing,” says Jennifer Tee, deputy director of Going through Homelessness. (Hohlbein and his daughter are not main the project, although they’re nonetheless concerned.) “We perceive that lots of people who’re transferring into these houses are experiencing some type of trauma, be it from homelessness or from earlier experiences. We actually need this to be a steady setting, so someone isn’t considering, ‘Oh, no, I’ve to transfer in a 12 months,’ or ‘I’ve to transfer in two years.’”

Within the case of the primary tiny dwelling that was constructed, the resident was 74 when he moved in. Holhbein says that he has change into so shut to the homeowners that it’s attainable he might stay there for the remainder of his life.

The project’s preliminary dwellings have been constructed by volunteer labor in individuals’ backyards, however as a result of contractors had busy schedules, the method took months. Final 12 months, Going through Homelessness designed a brand new system of panels that could possibly be in-built a workshop after which popped collectively on-site inside days to type partitions, the roof, cupboards, and the remainder of the fundamental construction.


“Every part is constructed within the Block store by the use of jigs, which permits volunteers to come and construct the panels with none development information,” Hohlbein says. The nonprofit works with native plumbers and electricians to arrange utilities, and offers fundamental furnishings, together with a mattress body and mattress, fold-up desk, fridge, and scorching plate. A “Welcome Residence Package” fundraised with the neighborhood affords different important gadgets like curtains, pots and pans, silverware, bedding, cleansing provides, and shampoo.

This system has grown solely by phrase of mouth to date, says Tee, although the nonprofit now plans to recruit new homeowners. Hohlbein believes that the concept will change into extra mainstream. “Airbnb, the concept of a whole stranger staying in your house when you’re sleeping—that’s loopy,” he says. “I’m sufficiently old to know the time earlier than Airbnb, and that thought was simply ludicrous. And now no person thinks about it. So we imagine that the identical type of cultural shift will occur with the Block Project.”

Although the unique imaginative and prescient was to set up a tiny house on each block—which might create sufficient housing for nearly each individual experiencing homelessness within the metropolis—the nonprofit plans to develop slowly. “We’re scaling on the tempo of neighborhood,” Tee says. “We wish to ensure that each time you place a resident, we’ve got all of the capability we want to help that resident.”