City leaders approve proposal to build tiny-home village to house homeless people
photo by: contributed rendering
City leaders have approved a permit that will allow the proposal for a tiny-home village for homeless people to move forward.
As part of its meeting this week, the Lawrence City Commission voted unanimously to approve the special use permit required for the project, which will use shipping containers to create 12 tiny homes on the grounds of the Lawrence Community Shelter, 3655 E. 25th St. Commissioners agreed it was a good opportunity for the shelter, which has reduced the capacity in its main building because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m really happy and pleased that they are moving forward on these types of ideas,” Commissioner Lisa Larsen said. “I think we’re going to hopefully see more of them.”
The shelter is partnering with the University of Kansas architecture program Studio 804 on the project, as the Journal-World previously reported. The project, Monarch Village, is a change from past Studio 804 projects, which typically involve energy-efficient single-family homes that are sold on the open market. Under the partnership with the shelter, Studio 804 will donate the design services, materials and labor to construct the project. Dan Rockhill, who leads the program, has said the tiny-homes project seeks to maintain the same quality of work and sustainable features as other projects.
The proposal came to the City Commission following a review last month by the Planning Commission, which recommended the permit for approval. LCS Executive Director Renee Kuhl told city commissioners that she was grateful for the in-depth conversation from planning commissioners regarding the project and their willingness to allow the shelter to try something different by creating a tiny-home community.
“I’m grateful to them for passing this and putting it in front of you guys,” Kuhl said. “I’m certainly excited for what the future might hold with this type of structure, a tiny-home model, whether it’s addressing homelessness or expanding affordable housing opportunities.”
photo by: contributed rendering
As part of the meeting, Commissioner Courtney Shipley asked about how using shipping containers as a building material for housing fits into city code and what the city’s response would be should someone want to use shipping containers in a neighborhood. She also asked whether the city should discuss putting any additional provisions or safeguards in the code specifically for shipping containers.
Planning and Development Director Jeff Crick said that the tiny homes made of shipping containers — and any type of dwelling in general — must still meet city building code, fire code and permitting requirements. He said other requirements would vary depending on the use, but the structures would need to meet all the requirements in place for whatever zoning district they fall under, whether residential or commercial.
Crick later told the Journal-World that though not specifically mentioned, the use of shipping containers falls under existing code for manufactured homes, typically used for mobile homes. He said the shelter’s permit doesn’t change the ability for others to use shipping containers for homes or businesses.
“As long as you meet the required code, you can work with the material that you see fit,” Crick said.
Kuhl previously told the Journal-World that the shelter is currently housing far fewer people than its limit of 125 because of the need to maintain social distance at the shelter amid the pandemic. The shelter’s city permit application indicates that each tiny home can house a maximum of four people, including up to two adults, for a total maximum capacity of 48 people. Although the tiny homes will primarily provide housing for families, they may also be used to isolate people for health reasons.