Tiny Houses & Homelessness

It’s getting a little scary.

Nearly a third of U.S. households didn’t pay their full July rent or mortgage. The $600 unemployment extension is now effectively gone until Congress passes something to extend or replace it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that any additional money for unemployment would be closer to $100 or $200 a week or a percentage of earnings if systems can be updated to allow for that.

Many Americans already couldn’t afford a $500 emergency, even before coronavirus hit. With so many people unemployed or having to close down their small businesses, there are reasons to be concerned–even more so in a city like Oceanside, which has no shelter for people experiencing homelessness and long waitlists for families to get into affordable housing. (A June 2020 update indicated that the city is currently working with veterans and non-veterans who applied for Section 8 prior to 2014.)

Our country is facing a potential housing crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, if ever. But there are things we can do as a community to help keep us all safer and it’s time we started working towards solutions.

One idea that I support to help with the existing homeless crisis is tiny homes, so that we can begin to provide a place for unsheltered people to live and begin to get wraparound services for mental health, addiction, medical assistance, and more. In fact, there are projects like this already happening in California, including a tiny house complex in San Jose that opened earlier this year.

San Diego just approved an ordinance that will allow homeowners to have movable tiny houses in their backyards. The thought is that these units can provide more affordable housing options to some while allowing homeowners to bring in additional income or provide living space for family and friends, something that will help everyone involved given the challenges presented by the coronavirus.

In Oceanside, we could start by setting aside some land in order to begin work on emergency sleeping cabins. Tiny homes can be constructed at a fraction of the cost of traditional housing–with some units costing a little as $20,000 to build to code. At a time when more people are unable to afford housing, we have to start getting together as a community to decide how we are going to do our part to plan for our city. Once temporary housing is in place, other services like career training and job placement become much more viable.

Last year the Supreme Court declined to hear the Martin v. Boise case, effectively letting stand the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that imposing criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or sheltering outside on public property to homeless individuals is unconstitutional when there is no shelter available. If we want to be able to get rid of the encampments and impose penalties for those sleeping outside in our city, we have to begin to plan for adequate shelter space and alternatives. In particular, where there are encampments that are becoming a threat to public safety due to drug use or lack of sanitation, it is important that we are empowered to take action. Tiny houses are one possible, cost-effective solution to an unprecedented housing crisis.

The good news is that it does appear that a second stimulus will be coming for most people sometime prior to November elections. And on Sunday, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said that the federal government intends to extend its eviction moratorium as a part of the next round of coronavirus relief. Exactly how soon that relief might come is anyone’s guess, and it’s clear that we need to start doing something about the homelessness our city had even before this virus.

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