Tiny house enthusiasts trace their roots back to Henry David Thoreau and the 150-square-foot cabin he built in 1854 near Walden Pond. It remained a relatively small cause until 2014, when two TV shows regaling the lifestyle debuted and social media posts showing off tiny homes went viral. It didn’t take long before the idea was floated as a solution to the homeless crisis, prompting cities like Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Fresno to consider or create tiny home villages, or allow homes in backyards as accessory dwelling units.
The tiny house village idea is now percolating on the Monterey Peninsula for homeless veterans. The nonprofit Veterans Transition Center and Carmel architect Thomas Rettenwender – who teaches tiny house design at UC Santa Cruz and is involved in the the Santa Cruz-based Tiny House Design Lab, among other similar efforts – are proposing a village on the former Fort Ord in Marina. They’ve also talked about launching a tiny home construction business, to provide jobs for veterans. They expect about 50 people to attend a meeting about the VTC project idea, and tiny houses in general, on March 2.
The cluster of 12 to 35 400-square-foot homes affixed to foundations would be built “in a very appealing, physical park setting,” VTC Executive Director Kurt Schake says. Residents would lease the homes and receive supportive services through VTC.
All of their plans are tentative, however, since there are several hurdles, including Marina zoning ordinances that don’t currently allow for tiny homes.
Some homeless advocates warn that while tiny houses might work logistically, they may not be the best way to serve the homeless population, and that people with mental health and substance abuse issues may feel isolated when confined to a small space and question if villages would morph into tiny house skid rows.
Schake says he believes what the VTC and Rettenwender envision would overcome those concerns with design, wrap-around services and involvement in the greater veteran community.
Matt Huerta, housing program manager for Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, says he could see tiny homes as transitional housing and a step to permanent housing, especially in situations where building higher-density affordable housing isn’t possible. However, he says, “I believe we should be spending a majority of our time on housing that is going to make the greatest impact.”