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Could 'Tiny Houses' Help Chicago's Homeless Population?

By Kelly Bauer | April 20, 2016 5:42am
A "tiny home" that could make its way to Chicago.
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Twitter/Marisa Novara

CHICAGO — Could "tiny houses" help end homelessness in Chicago? 

The Tiny House movement pushes for people to downsize their homes — including some smaller than 400 square feet — but advocates are also looking at how those homes can be used to help vulnerable populations. In Chicago, Windy City Times publisher Tracy Baim and others are pushing for tiny houses to help homeless people.

"The bottom line is affordable housing in Chicago has become unaffordable," said Baim, who organized this week's Tiny Home Summit in University Village. Baim found that the costs of building affordable housing have risen to $350,000-$400,000 and it can take years to get the approval needed to build those units. "We are never gonna solve the problem of homelessness through that one solution."

Instead, Baim is suggesting Chicago explore creating Tiny House communities. Proponents built a test Tiny House outside the summit, 750 S. Halsted St., and it took less than a week and cost less than $30,000 (a full Tiny House would cost less than $80,000, Baim said). The 331-square-foot home included a front porch, bedroom area, bathroom, full kitchen, sofa area and storage space.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all" solution, Baim said. "But it can serve a significant portion much quicker and more cheaply than existing options in Chicago."

The home will remain at UIC for the next couple of days, and builders hope to find another spot where it can go on display for longer.

The city doesn't have any Tiny House communities yet, but there are more than 100 spots across the city that would be "ideal" for a village, Baim said.

The villages could serve different populations, Baim said: Communities for students would be near colleges or along transit lines while homes for veterans would be near veteran service providers. People could even put a Tiny House in their backyard and rent it out, Baim said.

"It would be great to have multiple Tiny Home villages," Baim said, calling the Tiny House communities "an additional tool in the toolkit of housing options in Chicago."

The city's zoning laws don't support "that kind of independent, freestanding housing" yet, Baim said, but she's received support in her push from several aldermen, including Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), who oversees the ward where a Tiny House competition site was hosted.

There will be a "big, heavy lift to see if this can be approved in Chicago," Baim said. The summit hosted advocates and government officials who talked about zoning laws and figuring out how to bring Tiny Houses to Chicago and other areas.

"The goal is to figure out, 'Are there exceptions that can be made?'" Baim said.

Here are some other Tiny Homes featured on The Tiny Life, a website dedicated to smaller living.

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