Madrona Grace recently had a tiny house built by the Wood Technology Center of Seattle Central Community College and had it placed in the back of our small church property. Our tiny house will provide living space for a formerly homeless on-site supervisor for Julia’s Place, the 6-family homeless shelter that takes up the entire basement of our church building.
We plan on then building other cottages for homeless people on other religious properties in the Seattle area. Funds have now been promised from a local family foundation to assist other congregations who would like to join us in this adventure, and we even have an extra house available now! For more information, contact Pastor Mark Zimmerly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is currently estimated that about 1% of the American population is homeless–1 out of every 100 people. Madrona Grace is a community about about 100 people. If every community of 100 people hosted a cottage for one person, there would be no one left living on the streets.
We believe that the only path toward truly ending homelessness in Seattle is the creation of more affordable housing. Our goal is to create permanent affordable housing for formerly homeless individuals by building cottages and placing them on religious properties throughout the Seattle Area.
Why tiny houses? These small houses easy to build and extremely efficient. Unlike large buildings they can be constructed by volunteers. Building small also makes them safer and sturdier.
Are they on wheels? Not necessarily. In Seattle the cottages must be classified as “non-permanent structures” rather than as permanent buildings. This makes it so that the units can be moved if an issue arises with a landlord or a particular resident. We now have a mover who can move the cottages for us without them being on flatbed trailers.
Why not just buy RVs ? Not only are RVs more expensive than these cottages, they are made from unsustainable materials, are less aesthetically pleasing, and are less efficient with space because they are designed for the road rather than the back-yard. Our neighbors deserve to live in houses that look and feel good– like houses, even if they are tiny ones.
Why not just build more apartments? Apartments can be efficient to build and maintain, but they require large initial investments (millions of dollars) that tend to preclude ordinary people from getting involved. This project encourages community members to have a personal stake in housing and caring for their neighbors.
Isn’t it better to keep the homeless population in one place rather than dispersed in neighborhoods? In a word, NO! Studies show that people without resources do better in mixed neighborhoods, where they are not surrounded by people with similar needs. People need good neighbors, not just good houses. Congregational Cottages build both.
Is it really safe to have a homeless person in my church courtyard? In a word, YES! Most people these days in need of housing are regular folk who are fully capable of being good neighbors. Let’s start by welcoming them into our neighborhoods and into our networks of support.
Typical Cost of a Unit: $10,000. This may or may not include utility connections depending on the situation. Utilizing reclaimed construction materials when available helps keep the costs down (windows, doors, etc).
Location: In a church parking lot, side-yard, or on any property where water and electricity are available. Emphasis is put on proximity to a functional community or a responsible household for oversight.
Financing: The Pritt Family Foundation has committed $100,000 to help with congregations who are ready to host a cottage.
The basics of why we welcome our homeless neighbors into our back-yards:
1. Personal Responsibility: Jesus didn’t say write a check or become a lobbyist, he said “you give them something to eat.” (Mark 6:37)
2. Community: These neighbors need us to be a regular part of their lives–their healing may depend on it. (Matt 9:2)
3. Community: We need these neighbors to be a regular part of our lives–our salvation may depend on it! (See the Rich Man and Lazarus: Luke 16:19-31)
Isn’t there a more efficient way to help the homeless than by building micro-houses? Yes! If every Christian welcomed the homeless poor into their houses as we are instructed to do in scripture, we would have hardly anyone on the streets (Isaiah 58:7). This would be much more efficient. Some people also think it is more efficient to pay experts to take care of homeless people for us. Usually this means building large apartment buildings, hospitals, and jails where poor people can be sent away to get assistance or kept out of sight. This Congregational Cottages project is a middle way that encourages us to remain in relationship with the homeless poor while helping them to find healing and support in community.
*Check out our interview with the Presbyterian News Service about our Tiny House project: