Tiny Towns | Urban Living
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Tiny Towns

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Los Angeles has built apartments for homeless people out of shipping crates. The Hilda L. Solis Care First Village is located close to downtown LA on 4.2 acres. You might recognize the name if you've lived in California, as Solis chairs the LA County Board of Supervisors. This amazing project offers 232 housing units along with a common building that holds a commercial kitchen, dining area, laundry facilities and administrative offices. There's also a dog park, parking and water-wise landscaping.

The simplicity of this project is beautiful. The steel shipping crates were stacked atop each other up to three stories. They are stacked and fixed into place, with stairs and ramps leading up and down. Each container is able to offer two apartments—about 135 square feet apiece—and each is equipped with a private bathroom (shower, toilet, sink), a twin bed, microwave (not stove), small refrigerator, its own heat/AC unit and a flat-screen TV attached to the wall.

It opened this spring and was fully occupied within 30 days. It cost $57 million to build, but $51 million of the total cost came from monies generated by the CARES Act during COVID and the rest paid for by Los Angeles County.

Why do we care about what LA is doing? Well, Salt Lake City is all abuzz over a new planned development of mini-homes being created through a partnership between Salt Lake City government and a nonprofit, The Other Side Academy, in a west-side industrial area on about 1800 West and 800 South (Indiana).

Currently, the 45 acres there has one home and a huge auto junkyard as neighbors, and so, to actually build a mini-home subdivision, a major zoning change is needed. Although Salt Lake's plan does not call for the use of shipping containers, the development could make an impact on the lack of housing options for the unsheltered ... about 400 of them if this plan succeeds.

I have seen the proposed renderings of the subdivision, and it looks pretty cool on paper, with plenty of green space around the homes, a mix of retail and office space as well as room for community gardens and common areas. The goal would be to have nonprofit service providers on site to counsel inhabitants to improve mental health (if needed), assist in job searches and a space for medical services.

This project was inspired by a truly successful program in Austin, Texas, called Community First! Village, which was built by a Texas nonprofit (Mobile Loaves & Fishes) in 2004. It has transformed the lives of hundreds of chronically homeless people. The nonprofit was able to get their master-planned community of men and women past the "NIMBYs" who feared such a group coming to live in their city. Funny, but those people were already living in their city!

Let's cross our fingers that maybe Joseph Grenny and his Utah-centric Other Side Academy can do the same for our unsheltered friends here that Texas was able to do for theirs.