Not Everything Is Bigger in Texas: Austin Is Building Tiny Houses for the Homeless

Community First Village will be made of compact and cute buildings.

(Photo: Mobile Loaves & Fishes/Facebook)

Staff Writer Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at GOOD.

With their small size and stylish appearance, tiny houses have become a mainstay of the movement to downsize and live sustainably. Now, as a part of Community First Village, a to-be-created project in the Austin, Texas, area, the compact living solutions are about to become housing for the homeless.

The effort is the brainchild of local nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes. At the end of July the project’s organizers found that the tiny structures could be popped up in about six hours. Once they’re painted and given a homey touch with plants and porch chairs, the homes are a welcoming environment that anyone would be glad to return to at the end of a long day.

To that end, the organization has spent 10 years fund-raising and planning the housing development, which will provide homeless individuals with a place to live.

“We will be gradually moving 240 people off the streets of Austin, Texas, to live in our community,” Donna Emery, the organization’s director of development, told KEYE TV. “A tent in the woods is not going to solve what they desire most, which is to live in a community.”

Emery told the station that Mobile Loaves & Fishes isn’t just looking to put a roof over folks’ heads. It’s out to build a genuine communal residential area. The site will feature a community center, a community garden, and an outdoor movie theater. Residents will have to pay rent, although it will be significantly below market rate. Some might pay as little as $90 a month to live in one of the homes. The project will connect residents with job training and employment opportunities so they can afford the rent.

An on-site medical center will tend to the health needs of the community. “For a lot of our men and women, the only resource they have is to go into an emergency room,” said Emery.

Providing housing for the homeless has been found to save taxpayers significant amounts of cash. An 85-unit effort in Charlotte, N.C., saved that city $1.8 million in 2013. Emery projects that once Community First Village is completed, it will save Austin taxpayers $10 million a year in medical costs alone.  

However beneficial that may be, and as cute as the houses are, not everyone in town is thrilled about the project’s arrival. Emery said that all residents will be have their background checked. The project formally breaks ground on Aug. 27.

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