Youth Design a Tiny House Village in Berkeley

“I’m so thrilled about the opportunity our church will have to build a tiny house. It’s such a do-able project for a local church; a deeply satisfying way to put some sweat equity behind our longing for economic justice; a poignant means of demonstrating our care for the most vulnerable neighbors.”

Mary Stackiewicz and contractor Tre Brown work to build the frame for a structure for the Youth Tiny House Village in Berkeley. Photo by Oni Vanderson


by Sally Hindman

“I have observed the misery of my people, I have heard their cry.” Exodus 3:7

“It’s difficult for youth in poverty these days,” said Yanni Richardson, a young activist working with Youth Spirit Artworks on the Tiny House Village campaign. “Often nothing seems to change and there are a lot of different factors that keep youth in unfortunate situations. It’s not all youth’s fault!

“Tiny Houses will be great because we will be able to work together to be productive members of society as a community. We’ll have a place to eat and sleep and do positive things.”

Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) is engaged in a youth-led campaign to design a Tiny House Village and create 20 houses. The project is aimed at empowering and transforming the lives of homeless and low-income youth, ages 18 to 25, as they work to meet personal and professional goals. Many will take part in the jobs and jobs training program offered by YSA.

If Berkeley says “yes” to YSA’s project, this will be the city’s first tiny house village and very likely the first Youth Tiny House Village in the United States.

Young leaders at YSA are challenging the City of Berkeley to partner with them and with their nonprofit development collaborator, Housing Consortium of the East Bay, to make this exciting vision a reality in the next 15 months.


An artistic rendering by Alan Johnson of the proposed Tiny House Village in Berkeley.


According to Reggie Gentry, YSA’s Tiny House Village team organizer, “We are calling on the City of Berkeley to lend their support in three key ways. We need them to provide land or work to get us the land; we need $60,000 in funding for a YSA Program Director case managing the participants and supporting the project; and we need the City’s help with ensuring a cheap and streamlined process of harnessing the utilities needed for the Village.”

YSA leaders began holding meetings focused on creating their Youth Tiny House Village in the winter of 2016, when young people from the local youth shelter with no place to go during the day, and no placements into housing through “The Hub” (Berkeley’s new Coordinated Intake System), began spending time at YSA’s Daytime Emergency El Nino Shelter, open 70 hours a week during the winter months.

Youth began considering their long-term prospects for housing. No placements into housing from the shelter, or The Hub, were taking place because of the lack of sufficient affordable housing. And they had great difficulty earning enough money to pay Bay Area rents, even if they were working.

So these homeless youth, along with other couch-surfing young people, realized they needed to develop a creative, below-market-rent approach to solving their housing challenges. Learning about Tiny House Villages being organized around the country, many young people decided to begin holding meetings and exploring the development of a Tiny House Village.

They joined with encampment organizers from “First They Came for the Homeless” in those early, exploratory meetings and ultimately began holding their own meetings as their Tiny House Village project took shape.

Realizing a nonprofit developer partner would be needed in their effort, YSA soon approached , executive director of HCEB, was excited from the start.

Lounds said, “We invested for multiple reasons, but who could say no to a project for youth, and led by youth? It is wonderful to be a part of helping local young people reach their goals and achieve their dreams. Tiny houses offer a really creative solution for young people.”

One of the exciting dimensions of this Village is that youth will have a “rent to buy” option so that when they age out of the Village, they may be able to move with a house they now own. Lounds and his team at Housing Consortium of the East Bay are currently costing out that option.

Youth Spirit Artworks has begun building a Tiny House prototype in its ArtLot at 1740 Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley, with architect Dan Edleson and contractor Tre Brown leading that work. The youth spent four sessions working with the architect team, first designing the prototype and making important decisions on what was needed in their houses before construction began.

As part of their educational homework, the team visited Laney College to see the Tiny House developed by Laney students.

Six YSA leaders, including Oni Vanderson, Mary Stackiewicz, Stormy Adams, Joseph McNeeley, and Kharaii Johnson, are engaged in the prototype construction work, led by contractor Tre Brown, which began on April 15, 2017, and has a completion date of June 15. Throughout this coming summer, YSA leaders will be holding tours of the Tiny House prototype in their ArtLot at 1740 Alcatraz Avenue.

Funding for the prototype home is coming from the Plambeck Maiklang Fund of East Bay Community Foundation, Seelig Family Foundation, AKC Fund, Berkeley Rotary, and San Francisco Foundation FAITHS Initiative. Rob Seelig of the Seelig Family Foundation gushed as he described his involvement, “As a funder and someone anyway interested in innovations, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to support this very replicable youth-led project.”

The YSA Tiny House prototype has been developed with inspiration from a number of Tiny House Villages around the country, including Square One Village in Oregon and Occupy Madison in Wisconsin. It includes ADA accessibility, is height compliant, and in other ways complies with current housing standards.

Still, the prototype will be modified before being replicated. Youth and members of the organizing team will continue to brainstorm after it is completed, going over what they need and want in their Tiny House Village. Developing housing codes, features specific to the physical site chosen for the village, as well as other logistics will impact the final prototype created for their village. A major factor will be whether each house needs to be self-contained or whether the village makes use of common spaces with a shared kitchen, showers and bathrooms.

Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary students William Rima and Paul Benz are leaders of the team engaged in YSA’s “Adopt a Tiny House Campaign.” Rima and Benz will be working through the Lutheran church with local congregations beginning in fall 2017, inviting the religious community to build Tiny Houses with the youth leaders for their Village. A seminary student from Pacific School of Religion will also be involved.

Contractor Tre Brown works with Khairii Johnson and Stormy Adams to construct a prototype Tiny House at Youth Spirit Artworks. Photo by Oni Vanderson


Congregations will be able to choose to either build in YSA’s ArtLot, or at another site, including their own congregation parking lot, and then later transport the tiny houses to be part of the village. Funds to pay for building materials and other expenses will come both from congregations, as well as from private donors and foundations.

Building tiny houses has already been received with enthusiasm by the local religious community.

Exclaims Rev. Molly Phinney Baskette, senior pastor of First Congregational Church of Berkeley, “I’m so thrilled about the opportunity our church will have to build a tiny house that will someday live in YSA’s Tiny House Village. It’s such a do-able project for a local church; such a deeply satisfying way to put some sweat equity behind our longing for economic justice; such a poignant means of demonstrating our care for some of the most vulnerable neighbors we have. And besides: tiny houses are flipping COOL.”

Youth Spirit Artworks has been actively involved in community organizing to stop gentrification and displacement of long-time residents of South Berkeley through the local neighborhood group, Friends of Adeline, and the Youth Tiny House Village project is also one effort connected to that concern.

YSA youth organizers are excited that their project will help stop the displacement of young people raised in South and West Berkeley, since many of the youth engaged in the Tiny House Village project are local youth who are unable to find affordable housing, or are “couch surfing” with relatives to afford rent, who will be enabled to stay in the community by living at the Tiny House Village.

YSA organizer Onynex Johnson, who grew up in South Berkeley, elaborates: “By having a Tiny House Village, it acts as a stepping stone, solving a bigger issue, which is displacement. And by having a Youth Tiny House Village, it will allow young people like myself, out of high school, to be able to live in Berkeley, and continue my education in the place I love.”

“My people will abide in peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.” — Isaiah 32:18

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Tiny Houses Are a Source of Hope for Many Young People

by Tyler Richardson

My name is Tyler and I having been living off and on in Berkeley since 2009. I have been housed here as well, but I am currently living displaced in South Berkeley.

Most recently, I’ve been staying in the First They Came for the Homeless protest encampment. I’ve been evicted from 13 different public areas around Berkeley in the past five months. I’ve had every possession I own taken three times.

I was able to get my things returned the last time so I’m in a better position now, especially since I’ve met the folks over at Youth Spirit Artworks and found a lot of projects going on that hold great potential.

A tiny house community would be a great opportunity for Berkeley youth in many ways. It provides an opportunity to start a new and better way of housing the young people that are frequently seen sleeping outside. Also, it’s an affordable alternative, especially for people new to starting out on their own.

Furthermore, it allows a framework for a young person to succeed in reaching goals. As a displaced youth myself in South Berkeley, I could even help in building the tiny house community.

Sleeping outside isn’t always possible due to being constantly kicked out of different areas just for laying down. Then there’s the weather. It’s been a very rainy winter season that I’m glad is over. That alone is a big reason that tiny houses could benefit youth. Just getting indoors is a priority for restful sleep that is safe.

Secondly, when a young person enters the so-called “real world” and they must start taking care of their finances on their own, an affordable option would be favorable. It would leave room for other necessities; and give space to make healthy meals, and get showered and ready for work. It would provide positive support for surviving on your own.

Tiny houses form a framework for reaching goals and completing tasks, which I think is the best reason why affordable tiny houses would benefit Berkeley. I find the hardest part about getting back into the routine of work, home, play, and eating healthy is just having a safe place to keep my possessions.

My clothes must be cleaned for getting a job and I need a place to remain clean and dry. My medicine that keeps me healthy and sane needs to be stored in a safe place, without me having to carry it all the time. It’s really tiring to always have to keep watch over your things; so getting things done can become very hard.

A tiny house would be in many ways the stepping stone to a respectable position for myself and other youth here in Berkeley and maybe all over the country. I could even help with the building!

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Support a Tiny House Village in Berkeley

Stop displacement of the children and grandchildren of residents of South & West Berkeley! Help the campaign to create a Tiny House Village TODAY.

In Berkeley, call Mayor Jesse Arreguin at 510-981-7100 and leave this message: “I urge you to do everything you can to help Youth Spirit Artwork’s young leaders in creating their Tiny House Village. These young people need the City’s support with three things:

1) Identifying a City-owned site.

2) Allocating new funding to support a Program Director/Social Worker to assist with Case Management for youth at the Tiny House village.

3) Assisting with utility hook ups.

You can also leave this message with your City Council members:

District 1: Linda Maio—981-7110

District 2: Cheryl Davila—981-7120

District 3: Ben Bartlett—981-7130

District 4: Kate Harrison—981-7140

District 5: Sophie Hahn—981-7150

District 6: Susan Wengraf—981-7160

District 7: Kriss Worthington—981-7170

District 8: Lori Droste—981-7180

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