Is this village for homeless veterans or the general homeless population?
We are not going to discriminate against people based on their history of service in our military. If veterans apply to live in the village and there are no other appropriate locations for them to move to, they will definitely have an opportunity to live in our village. Statistics show that only 17% of the people experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis are veterans. This number includes people already staying in other shelters and transitional housing programs. So, the number of veterans that are unsheltered is smaller. As one formerly homeless veteran at one of our community forums said, there are already many services for homeless veterans to take advantage of.
We definitely value the service provided by our veterans and we agree that those who served in the military should not be homeless. In our work doing outreach with friends experiencing homelessness, we have met a few of the ones who are still unsheltered and we respect them greatly. Still, the need in Indianapolis is for transitional living situations for people experiencing homelessness other than those who are veterans. Not all of the remaining 83% of the people experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis are drug addicts. They are human beings too and many of them just need a stable environment to begin to take the next steps to a more sustainable life.
How will this village affect the safety of our neighborhood?
This village will actually be a safer situation than currently exists in the neighborhood with the random people living in unauthorized encampments. This will provide those sleeping behind various buildings and in backyards the opportunity to live in a safe and controlled environment. There will be 24/7 security on-site provided by a team of residents, board members, and trained volunteers who provide the first level of security on site. We also have a good relationship with the IMPD Homeless Unit and one of their members is advising us on our security plans. We plan to have cameras on the property and will register them with the new program IMPD launched to link to business and homeowner camera’s to help solve crimes in the area. We plan to have representatives actively involved in crime watch in the area because it is in the best interests of our residents to help improve the safety in the neighborhood and not bring it down. With this village, you will have another ally in addressing crime in the neighborhood.
It is our desire to have residents who are promoting healthy community and not tearing it down. Because of this, all residents will go through a application process, including a background check, before they are allowed to move it. The two automatic disqualifiers for residency will be someone on the sex offender registry and violent offenders. All other offences will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
Will this project lower our property values?
The experience of other residential communities where the tiny house model has been used has shown that the presence of these villages has had no negative impact on local property values and may even be considered a catalyst for neighborhood improvement. In addition to that, we have looked at Indianapolis neighborhoods around other services for those experiencing homelessness, addiction, and housing insecurity and find a similar experience in our own city. Here are just three examples:
- The Herron-Morton neighborhood on the near northside has been an area of steady growth in property values. Yet, in that same neighborhood, there are two residential recovery programs for men coming out of homelessness and addiction. The Dayspring Family Shelter is also in the neighborhood. A search of the realtor.com map shows houses listed for $500,000 – $950,000 within blocks of three houses owned by Pathways to Recovery, one of the programs mentioned above.
- Another area with growing property values is on the near east side along 10th street. When the Queen of Peace women’s shelter was opened in the neighborhood, neighbors expressed similar concerns about the effect it would have on their property values. That neighborhood is now experiencing exponential growth in property values over the last two years as it becomes a revitalization hotbed. The presence of Queen of Peace has not affected property values.
- Another interesting example is the Barton Tower on Mass Avenue downtown. This is an IHA low-income housing tower. In spite of the presence of this building and its residents, developers had no problem building and renting units in a luxury apartment building that now surrounds the Barton Tower.
What about the lack of sidewalks in the neighborhood?
We are supporters of more walkable neighborhoods. We noticed the lack of sidewalks between our site and Wilkens St. We have committed to add sidewalks along the Lynhurst side of the property from the south property line to Chelsea. We are also looking at how to add sidewalks along the section in front of the Lynhurst Baptist Church building. This leaves just two businesses without sidewalks. We are working with the West Washington Walkability project to advocate for sidewalk along those two lots.
Why did I hear that the budget for this project is $2 million? Isn’t that a lot for tiny houses?
In a recent news story there was a budget estimate of $2 million mentioned. This was a very high-end estimate based on our architect’s cost estimate with volunteer labor or donated material. In all likelihood the final cost will end up being much less than that high-end estimate. This estimate is used when applying for grants, talking to government entities, and talking with insurance companies. In those situations, the people we are speaking with people who want to know that we are looking at the worst-case-scenario and preparing for it. It is best for our neighborhood and residents that we plan to create something of quality that is sustainable for the long-haul.
This estimate also includes more than the cost of just building the tiny houses. About $500,000 is the estimate for infrastructure work to prepare the site for the houses and community building to be built their. With infrastructure, we have to include things like running utility lines and storm drainage to make sure we are not creating flooding issues for any of our neighbors.
The estimate also includes $250,000 to build the community building which will be a multipurpose building that will be used by people living in the neighborhood in addition to the residents of the building. Building community is a key component of our program for helping our friends experiencing homelessness find sustainability in their lives. We what the community building to be a place where residents and neighbors can come together and create something positive in our neighborhood.
Another piece of the estimate is funding for support services for the first few years and a sustainability fund to help buffer maintenance costs for the first few years as we get the village up and running. As we have said many times, it is not our intention to just throw up a few tiny houses and move friends experiencing homelessness. We want to create something of value that is sustainable. The additional costs above the cost of the actual houses is an important part of creating a long-term plan for addressing homelessness.
Why did you pick this location?
When describing the ideal site for a tiny house village, Andrew Heben lists 4 criteria to consider in his book Tent City Urbanism:
- Access to public transit
- Access to public utilities
- Borders that can be controlled
- At least one acre in size
In addition to being donated to the village by Lynhurst Baptist Church, this site meets the above requirements. It is less than a half mile walk to catch the #8 bus which can take someone downtown in 25 minutes. It also only takes 15 minutes to reach the stop where residents can catch the Plainfield Connectors to access employment opportunities available in the Plainfield Industrial Park.
Some have brought up concerns about sidewalks and lack of recreation space nearby. We are looking at ways to address those concerns in our plan.
If someone is able to point us to a different site that is as inexpensive as this site that will do a better job at meeting these criteria, we are always open to considering that option but the current site is the best opportunity we have had presented to us, so far.
What is unique about your approach?
One of the single greatest causes of homelessness is a profound and catastrophic loss of family. When people lose the support network of a community of key people who walk with them in hard times, it is easier to end up in homelessness when other factors such as job loss, addiction, and medical emergencies hit. This is a repeated pattern we have seen in the lives of people we meet on the streets.
The tiny house village approach addresses that issue by focusing on building a peer community where everyone is involved in helping each other takes steps forward toward a more sustainable life. Residents are not simply clients or projects to be fixed by staff and volunteers. They become members of a community in which they have a vested interest in working together to build strong support networks for each other. Residents develop a sense of dignity and ownership by being involved in the decision making, maintenance, and management of the community. The experience of other locations who have used this approach is that the pride developed by a resident of the village helps motivate them to address other barriers in their lives that have lead to their experience of homelessness.