November 03, 2021
  • Opinion

Why not support a creative, low-budget affordable housing solution?

By Ray Wheeler, Glendale

Before my fellow Westsiders respond with traditional, oppositional NIMBY brain-lock to the proposal to build a “tiny home” village west of Redwood Road on Indiana Ave., I invite those with doubts to watch a 12-minute YouTube video, at https://tinyurl.com/yrrx5mva, about the internationally renowned “Community First!" Village in Austin, Texas, which has served as a model for the project here in Salt Lake City.

This supported community in Texas has been so successful that it is set to expand its current number of micro-homes for formerly homeless people from 240 to 1,900 in 2022. These tiny homes will include unique, 3D-printed homes, RVs, and canvas-sided cottages.

The Community First! Village business plan is to provide affordable housing, with rent in the range of $240 to $400 per month, to those formerly homeless persons who are highly motivated to live in small, energy efficient, private dwellings within a supported community that provides a sense of ownership, responsibility, and belonging.

Its many thoughtfully designed social services include community kitchens, shared restrooms and showers, blacksmith shop, carpentry shop, car care center and art studios where community members can learn skills and work for income from sales of products and services in several small retail stores. There is a chapel, a large community garden, some common open space, a cafe or grille, and larger common spaces for social events. The entire village, maintained by its own residents, is a model of cleanliness and tidiness.

The behavior required of community members is clearly defined. They must respect all pertinent civil laws and clearly articulated community rules. If they fail to do so, they must leave.

The proposed tiny home village in Salt Lake City is a project of a nonprofit called “The Other Side Academy,” whose mission is to provide an exit strategy from what might be thought of as the two-way “prison-to-street pipeline.” Like the Community First! Village, the Other Side Village would provide structure, support, and work opportunities for community members.

The Other Side Academy currently specializes in helping determined, young people escape the torment of drug addiction and jail time. The program is neither a warehouse for the hopelessly addicted, nor an addiction rehabilitation center. Rather it is a place where those who are willing and capable of giving up drugs, can learn work skills within a supportive community to eventually re-enter society. The Academy would be highly selective in recruiting its Tiny Home Village community members and would place large responsibility on residents to earn their keep.

Ask yourself this: Instead of continuing to push homeless individuals around in our streets, parks, and temporary overflow shelters, shouldn’t we encourage creative solutions to lead the chronically homeless out of their cycles of despair and ruin? Even though such programs can only empower the most highly motivated, they can serve as a testing ground and a beacon for the development of more cost-effective solutions to chronic homelessness.

If the proposed Other Side Academy site is too close for comfort, we might explore alternative sites further west. It would be a far better use of the Northwest Quadrant area than what has so far been proposed. 

ITALICS: Ray Wheeler is a Glendale resident who loves the natural world, intellectual discussions, kayaking the Jordan River, and exploring solutions to the world’s problems.

Published in Fall 2021