Last month’s well attended climate march in New York City showed that we are finally recognizing the harmful effects of our fossil-fuel driven economy on the planet. Some Americans looking to shrink their carbon footprint are doing so by shrinking their homes, opting to live in ultra-compact houses, often referred to as “tiny houses.”
Increasingly, these small homes are also being considered as models for affordable housing that could serve as a place for the homeless to find some stability and, perhaps, live permanently. In such varied locations as Portland, Oregon, upstate New York, Austin, Texas and Madison, Wisconsin, local advocates for the homeless have constructed communities of tiny houses.
One of the chief benefits of living in a small space (referred to by some who practice it as “micro-living”) is that it’s cheap. An added bonus—and the reason for its initial appeal—is that it’s environmentally sustainable.
The growing popularity of very small houses among the environmentally-minded set is now being called a movement. There are numerous blogs devoted to them. There’s a company that builds and sells them. There’s even a show about them—Tiny House Nation—for those with access to the triple-digit television channels.
But the movement began as an effort by a small group of individuals to shrink their carbon footprint. “The size of your house probably has more to do with how eco-friendly the house is than anything, because you have to heat and cool that space and heating and cooling is what uses most of the energy. So having a small space automatically makes you more eco-friendly,” says Brian Levy, an expert in implementing sustainable energy who has worked with the Department of Energy and has built a model tiny home, called Minim House.
Minim House was started as part of Boneyard Studios, a model tiny house community that existed on a small lot next to a graveyard in Washington, DC, from 2012 until August 2014. (Some of the houses that were part of the community are on wheels and are in the process of being relocated elsewhere, but Levy’s Minim House will stay put.) Even though the land on which they built and gardened was not zoned for residential living (and they could not actually live in the homes they built), Levy and Boneyard Studio’s co-founders hoped a model community would inspire others to take up micro-living, and start a discussion about new forms of affordable housing in DC.
“It was important in terms of addressing bigger issues—trying to showcase these small homes as a sustainable, affordable option for housing,” says Levy. “We have lost half our affordable housing in DC in the last 10 years, so the idea was to propose these micro-houses as one potential solution.”
When Levy finished building his model tiny house, he had spent $65,000. But he estimates that without the cost of labor and some of the more advanced sustainable systems—such as solar panels and rainwater collection and filtration—the home could be built for $30,000.
“If you look at the total costs of a tiny house—$30,000 to $50,000—and if you look at the financing options for that house, that turns into a monthly payment of maybe $300, $400, $500 dollars a month, which is certainly fairly affordable compared to what a lot of housing is going for in a lot of areas these days,” says Levy.
Housing the Homeless
Beyond DC, a number of communities are exploring the viability of tiny houses for the homeless. Carmen Guidi is spearheading one such project in Newfield, New York, a 15-minute drive southeast from Ithaca, in a community called Second Wind Cottages.
Second Wind’s story began a few years ago, when Guidi, an auto mechanic and devout Christian, returned from a trip building homes in Haiti hoping to help those who were living in poverty in his own community.
“I just started to ask around,” he says. “‘Where can I help, what can I do?’ And some people said, ‘Why don’t you go help feed the homeless in Ithaca.’”
At first, he wasn’t even aware that Ithaca had a homeless population, but Guidi soon sought out and befriended the residents of a tent city called “the Jungle.” He brought them food and batteries and helped them find jobs and housing. But when one Jungle resident with whom Guidi had become particularly close committed suicide, he felt he had to do more to help the Jungle residents whom local landlords had refused to house.
Guidi initially invited some men to come live in trailers on his property. But he learned during a frigid Finger Lakes winter that the cost of keeping the trailers heated was unrealistic. So he turned to another solution: small, properly insulated houses.
Through word of mouth and crowd-funding initiatives, Guidi was able to raise $150,000 from local businesses, church groups and strangers and gather a large group of volunteers to build the first six cottages, which he says cost between $12,000 to $15,000 each. The homes sit on a hill behind Guidi’s autobody shop overlooking one of the area’s famous gorges. Eventually, Guidi hopes to build 18 cottages for the homeless men with a community center, then begin work on a second village for homeless women.
A Model to Replicate?
The six houses that Guidi and his team of volunteers have constructed already have residents. Dave Reed is one, and he says the community is helping him beat his alcoholism, which for years kept him from holding onto an apartment. Reed — who says that, before becoming homeless, he worked as a chef at Cornell University—held a series of jobs even while homeless to fund his addiction.
“I was working to drink, yes,” he says. “Drinking to work and working to drink.” But it was not sustainable. “I can’t drink without losing my job. I’m like a country song when I drink, you know?” he says with laugh. “When I drink, I lose things. And usually it’s my place to live, my job, self-esteem, my health. This time it was going to be my dog.”
Moving into one of the Second Wind cottages, where volunteers could drive him to work and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, helped him to face the demons that kept him drinking. “You’re independent here,” says Reed. “It’s your cottage. It’s got running water, it’s got electricity and it’s got a stove to cook on. You get a sense like you’re living, you’re really living.”
“And they are my friends,” he adds. “Every one of these people here are my friends.”
Many in the region are watching Second Wind cottages closely. Svante Myrick, the mayor of Ithaca, is a supporter and says that if the project succeeds, he’ll seek to replicate aspects of it with public financing.
“If we can take the model and replicate what we can—that is, small stand-alone shelters, instead of mass sheltering where it’s hard to keep folks safe and in some cases it’s hard to keep them sober, giving them units where they can actually have a space of their own, that’s warm and secure—I think that’s a model that certainly can be replicated,” he says.
Not a One-Size-Fits-All Solution
Homeless advocates point out that for many homeless people, small homes are not a silver bullet. “The faster you get people into regular, normal housing, the better off you are,” says Nan Roman, the president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a DC-based nonprofit. “Having said that, there’s no reason that [the] regular normal housing they move into couldn’t be tiny. The size is not the issue: It’s really where it is and if it’s integrated into the community and people have adequate support from the community.
“You want housing that is the same as housing other people live in. It needs to meet code and zoning requirements. You need to have a regularized relationship with your landlord and the same protections that other tenants have and those sorts of things. If you’re disabled and you need services, you need access to services, and you certainly don’t want to create substandard communities where people have to go live in order to get assistance.”
Roman says she’d worry if a micro-house community for the homeless were to be isolated from the community at large, without access to the support networks that many need to avoid falling back into homelessness.
Proponents of tiny houses, like Brian Levy, also note that micro-living will not meet every community’s needs for affordable housing. Current models for micro-living wouldn’t make sense for large homeless families, for instance. And large apartment complexes are often more appropriate in cities.
“A lot of folks rightfully say we need more dense multi-family housing, and we agree, absolutely. That needs to be the priority, because it’s cheaper and more efficient from a space perspective,” says Levy. “That said, there’s a lot of empty lots… where you simply can’t do multi-family housing.”
Starting a Conversation
Micro-living does provide one compelling new answer to a daunting problem, and communities around the country are giving it some thought.
“It’s a conversation started around the idea of how do we have more affordable housing in this country?” says Levy. “There’s a lot of different ways, we’re only offering one suggestion—one voice in that conversation.”
Dave Reed, of Second Wind Cottages, is one proponent. “It gives you a sense of dignity,” he says. “It’s a sense of freedom that I haven’t felt before, and I hope a lot of people are able to experience this, not just me.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
- 29 Wildfires Blaze Across the West, Fueled by Drought and Wind ... ›
- Large Wildfires Scorch Forests in Drought-Stricken Southwest ... ›
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. mixetto / E+ / Getty Images
Accessibility to quality health care has dropped for millions of Americans who lost their health insurance due to unemployment. New research has found that 5.4 million Americans were dropped from their insurance between February and May of this year. In that three-month stretch more Americans lost their coverage than have lost coverage in any entire year, according to The New York Times.
- Trump Plans to End Federal Funding for COVID-19 Testing Sites ... ›
- 'Unfathomable Cruelty': Trump Admin Asks Supreme Court to ... ›
On hot days in New York City, residents swelter when they're outside and in their homes. The heat is not just uncomfortable. It can be fatal.
- Extreme Heat-Stressed Locations Could Increase by 80% - EcoWatch ›
- African Americans Are Disproportionately Exposed to Extreme Heat ... ›
- Extreme Heat Is Killing Americans While Government Neglect ... ›
Fracking companies are going bankrupt at a rapid pace, often with taxpayer-funded bonuses for executives, leaving harm for communities, taxpayers, and workers, the New York Time reports.
- Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom ... ›
- Fracking Boom Bursts in Face of Low Oil Prices - EcoWatch ›
- As Fracking Companies Face Bankruptcy, U.S. Regulators Enable ... ›
A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
- Under Trump, EPA Workers Seek Bill of Rights to Allow Them to ... ›
- Trump Adds 'Tasteless Insult to Injury' by Pushing Fossil Fuel ... ›
By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
- Trump Admin Rejects CDC Reopening Guidelines - EcoWatch ›
- How Do You Stay Safe Now That States Are Reopening? - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Breaks U.S. Daily Record With Over 15,000 New ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
- DNC Ignores Progressive Climate Activists - EcoWatch ›
- Who's a Climate Champion and Who's a Climate Disaster? - EcoWatch ›