Illustration by Gina Ledor
Plans are underway for Youth Spirit Artworks’ (YSA) Tiny House Village to house homeless and low income youth in Berkeley. It was going to be built in the Ohmega Salvage lot, but the owner of the lot announced on May 10 that they were planning on selling it. YSA has decided not to purchase the lot, but will continue looking for an alternative option. In the meantime, they plan to use the same houses in whichever new site they encounter.
“Because they’re tiny houses, we’re much more flexible,” said Lauren Jewett, Interfaith Liaison and Spiritual Care Coordinator for YSA. Jewett works to coordinate and partner with other local organizations that share YSA’s mission.
YSA is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 that describes itself as “an interfaith ‘green’ art jobs and job training program,” and works with local youth in arts-based job training, and is the force behind this project. YSA has been working over the past two years to provide this affordable housing option for homeless and low income youth, which is the main population they serve. In 2016, when the project was first beginning, they reached out to members of the community and found that the number one need was for housing. They also surveyed local youth to see what would make the houses most useful to them.
They are planning a five house “mini village” as of right now and aim to build a twenty house village in the future. Each tiny house consists of a single room and is approximately 10 by 10 feet.
Six local youth leaders involved with YSA worked extensively with architect Dan Edleson to learn construction and planning skills, and to build the first tiny house prototype in October 2017. YSA also collaborated with architecture students from UCSF who worked on the tiny houses as part of their school projects. “They’ve been instrumental in doing the second round of design for our tiny house villages,” said Jewett.
Along with the youth staying in the houses, there will be resident advisors on site, according to Jewett.
Jewett has had several meetings with youth to begin creating policies and regulations for the village. Current Berkeley law only allows transitional housing to last for six months, but Jewett said she hoped they could change that, allowing for youth to stay in the village for three to four years.
Although many are supportive of the project, some people have expressed concerns about it. “The biggest group of people who are against the program are people who don’t understand it … and people who stereotype our youth as violent drug dealers, when in reality they’re a beautiful group of people, who are really wise, prophetic, and inspiring,” said Jewett.
At a recent neighborhood meeting for the old site, people had a wide range of responses to the project, some supportive and some skeptical. “I just wish that people would give our youth a chance to show who they are before deciding to unilaterally be against a project that’s seeking to resolve a really important issue in our community,” said Jewett.
“I think that there is a lot of community interest, and a Tiny House Village could garner significant financial support from the local faith communities,” said Lila Blanchard, YSA board member.
To create more funding and support for the project, YSA is running an “Adopt-A-Tiny-House” initiative in which local religious and other organizations pledge to support the construction of one tiny house.
YSA is also currently working to solve the housing crisis in the East Bay by creating group homes for youth in rented houses.
“I am very excited by the aesthetic appeal of a Tiny House Village created and overseen by YSA and it’s partners, and the community and relationships that could be fostered there, within and outside the village,” said Blanchard. “It feels exciting to me to think about this alternative type of development, and what it could signify and mean in a community like Berkeley, so besieged by the housing crisis.”