HOH seeks space for indoor 'tiny' house village

Posted 6/10/21

By ARDEN BASTIA Last Friday, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos visited the House of Hope to discuss affordable housing solutions, and tour a tiny house. Melissa Behm, development manager at the House of Hope, said the organization's affordable housing

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HOH seeks space for indoor 'tiny' house village


Last Friday, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos visited the House of Hope to discuss affordable housing solutions, and tour a tiny house.

Melissa Behm, development manager at the House of Hope, said the organization’s affordable housing project is in limbo at the moment.

“We’re still waiting for funding, but things are slowly moving along,” she said.

This past January, the House of Hope received a shipment of Pallet Shelters from the Washington-based company. Because the Pallet Shelters fall just below the requirements for weather-resistant outdoor shelter, the House of Hope is seeking a warehouse-like space in Providence to establish an emergency COVID housing opportunity (ECHO) village. The indoor village will feature 30 or so tiny homes for some of the state’s unsheltered population.

The Pallet homes are 64 square feet, can be assembled in less than an hour, and have heating and cooling systems as well as electricity. Each shelter features one or two single beds and shelves for personal belongings.

There is no running water in the tiny houses, so the House of Hope plans to use the Show to Empower mobile unit to offer hygiene services to those staying in the village.

The next steps for the affordable housing project is to go door knocking in some South Providence neighborhoods, although a specific location of the project has not been made public, because the organization is still waiting on funding.

“We’re going to let them know about the project we’re working on, the location we’re going in to, and that there will be a neighborhood meeting at the end of June for folks to come to.”

Behm says the organization has a “significant ask” out to the City of Providence, but is waiting to hear back about securing the funding.

“We’re hoping to get some of the American Rescue Plan funds to fund the project,” she said. “So the decision is imminent.”

According to Laura Jaworski, executive director of the House of Hope, the organization has requested $646,000 from the City of Providence, and about $726,000 from the state. The whole project itself is just over one million dollars.

According to the Pallet Shelter website, each tiny home starts at $5,495 each.

She said the project is an expensive investment upfront, because of the pallets themselves, but once the units are secured, “it’s a really cost effective program.”

“When it all boils down, it means we can put someone up for a night for less than $50,” said Jaworski, pointing out that it includes services, sleeping, and meals. “When we think about what the other options are, like congregate shelter or the hotel project, which is costing the state upwards of $75 per night per person, that’s not services, that’s just a bed.”

Jaworski said she hopes in this round of federal funding “that this is viewed as infrastructure needed to amend an immediate crisis,” to “alleviate a little bit of the pressure and bottleneck of our system.”

According to Behm, Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos has been “incredibly supportive” of the initiative.

Since her appointment as the state’s 70th Lieutenant Governor, Matos has used her platform to champion affordable housing initiatives.

During her visit to the House of Hope on Friday, Matos provided updates on her plans to tackle the housing crisis. One of her goals is to establish a coalition with other housing advocates across the state.

“I’ve been having individual meetings with individuals that work in housing,” she said. “I’m learning from this project and this possibility.”

Matos has also been working alongside the Secretary of Commerce and the Providence Housing Authority ahead of a virtual housing summit.

“I want to have one-on-one conversations, learn from the ideas that others have, and put a plan together that way,” Matos said, pointing out that there is no “one size fits all solution”, but instead must be dealt with “community by community.”

The ECHO Village is just a pilot program at this time, and will only be set up for a year. Jaworski and Matos talked on Friday about future plans for the Pallet shelters.

One solution, after the ECHO Village closes, is to divvy up the 30 shelters across the state to communities that are in need of assistance. Another solution is to keep them as reserves in case of disaster response.

“I think this is another notch in our belt,” said Jaworski on Friday. “This is innovative and cutting edge. You know, we tend to be a little bit farther behind other parts of the country. But this would be leaps and bounds if no one else is doing this.”

Jaworski said there were similar projects “trying to get off the ground” in states like Pennsylvania and Virginia, where “everyone’s in the exploration phase, but no one else that I know this side of the Mississippi is as close as we are.”

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