More than 4,000 people are homeless in San Jose, California. The 10th largest city in the US has long run out of beds to keep them sheltered.
A new law will make the city, located an hour's drive south of San Francisco, the first in the state to legally permit construction of tiny homes for the homeless, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Starting in January, the city will temporarily make an exception to state building, safety, and health codes and build houses so small, they wouldn't ordinarily be approved for construction. The new residences will measure 70 square feet for individuals and 120 square feet for couples. It's still unknown how many people the program will accommodate.
Cute as they may be, tiny houses are often illegal.
Many US city and county governments (including San Jose prior to this new law)do not authorize residences under a certain square footage. Development codes have requirements related to plumbing, utilities, and building foundations that such unconventional dwellings don't meet.
That's unfortunate, because tiny homes offer a creative solution to the homelessness crisis. Tiny homes cost between $200 and $400 per square foot, depending on the materials used and their extravagance, according to Forbes, while the median list price in San Jose is $515 per square foot. Earlier this year, the city became the first in the US where the average home costs over $1 million.
In San Jose, where many of the city's homeless stay in camps along trails, creeks, and rivers, something had to give. The city declared a "shelter crisis" back in December for the purpose of building homes that skirt existing development codes, according to the Mercury News.
"This law really is the first of its kind," Ray Bramson, San Jose's homeless response manager, tells the Mercury News. "It will allow us to create bridge housing opportunities — a stable place people can live and stay while they're waiting to be placed in a permanent home."
San Jose isn't the first city to build tiny houses for the homeless. A number of cities, including Austin, Texas; Detroit, Michigan; and Portland, Oregon, have experimented with "tiny villages" for the homeless. Residents of these villages speaking to the media describe a sense of pride in their communities.
In Austin, the creator of one such village estimates it will save taxpayers up to $3 million annually that's normally spent on medical bills and criminal justice expenses for the homeless.
San Jose plans to hold a competition where people can submit designs for the new homes. Cost effectiveness and the ability to duplicate homes easily are two major criteria, according to Bramson. The future locations of the tiny homes is still to be determined.
The law that temporarily allows their construction in San Jose will be suspended in 2022, when the city will evaluate the program's impact.
Should it prove successful, other cities in California might look to San Jose to see how it's done.