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November 2016

Housing alliance proposes "tiny housing villages" for homeless

Renderings of Compass Crossing modular homesBy March, a unique community will welcome as many as 19 homeless people (and their pets), thanks in part to a $1 million partnership grant from Seattle entrepreneur and philanthropist Paul G. Allen. The funds will be used by Compass Housing Alliance to introduce a cluster of modular housing units as a safe alternative to living on the streets or in tent cities.

Allen's grant will enable the repurposing of a 6,000 sq. ft. parking lot into a housing village with comprehensive services. The site, to be named Compass Crossing at Columbia City, is in southeast Seattle next to the Columbia City Church of Hope.

The pilot project will encompass 13 steel modular pods that will be structurally stable, safe and secure. Six units, for double occupancy, will be 240 square feet each, with the remaining seven, at 160 sq. ft. each, designed for single occupants. Each will have one or two beds and a bathroom, plus access to a storage locker. The pods, which look like a cross between a shipping container and a bungalow, are similar in size to Seattle's apodments.

Compass Crossing is also intended to be a community with a communal kitchen, common room, and courtyard, along with offices for the community's property and case managers. Everyone will work together to maintain the premises.

Residents will undergo a thorough intake process to address individual needs, connect them with appropriate resources, and to develop a housing stability plan with specific, measurable and timely goals.

In announcing the project, Compass Housing Alliance officials said the tiny houses are designed to be welcoming, dignified, and efficient. As an example, heated towel bars in the bathrooms suggest a luxury amenity, but they will also function as an effective heating source for the entire space.

Project partners say Compass Crossing marks the inaugural introduction of steel modular units as shelters for the homeless. After the three-year pilot project, the units may be relocated. Residents will be guaranteed housing for as long as needed to establish permanent housing.

This is "a new type of housing that can be done faster and cheaper," according to Compass executive director Janet Pope. They're more affordable and flexible than traditional construction, and more stable, comfortable and secure than tents, she remarked, noting the buildings for Compass Crossing are expected to cost around $8,000-$10,000.

The prefabricated sections are manufactured offsite and can be built, on average, in one-third the time and at one-third the cost of more conventional structures. Other benefits include ease of transporting, installation with minimal site preparation and expense, and movability. The units for Compass Crossing are scheduled for shipping in January, installation in February and occupancy in March.

Compass is working with Seattle-based modular construction company OneBuild, whose multi-disciplinary teams have worked on various projects ranging from a single modular office to a 48-unit retirement facility. The technology was developed largely by Forest City Ratner Companies of New York.

Compass Housing Alliance provides responsive, essential services and affordable housing for homeless and low-income men, women, veterans and families at more than two dozen locations in the Puget Sound region. Its history dates to 1920 when a couple from Sweden founded a mission in Pioneer Square. Since then, and in partnership with local congregations, governments and other service providers, its portfolio of services has expanded to include day services, emergency shelter, transitional housing and affordable housing.

Homelessness is a declared emergency in Seattle and King County. In late January, the "One Night Count in King County" tallied 4,505 people living unsheltered, on sidewalks, in cars and tents. More than 6,100 other individuals were in emergency shelters or transitional housing.

Acknowledging efforts being put forward to address the homeless crisis, a spokesman for Seattle native Paul Allen said "solutions have to start somewhere," and "we must do more." He emphasized Allen's commitment to catalyze solutions to the homelessness crisis.

Paul Butler, program lead for the Paul G. Allen Homeless Program, said his boss knows how critical it is to engage with local experts and the innovative organizations that are taking fresh approaches to this challenge. "There is no single solution that will solve the homelessness crisis, but by combining our efforts with local nonprofit organizations, we are one step closer to establishing long-term solutions."

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is known for his passion for technology, human knowledge and work to change the future. In the past 20 years, he has contributed nearly a quarter billion dollars to King County initiatives. Through his company, Vulcan Inc. and his family foundation, Allen's primary charitable interests include saving endangered species, improving ocean health, tackling contagious diseases, researching the human brain and building sustainable communities. In 2008, Allen was honored as Seattle King County First Citizen.