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Small World: Could tiny homes for the homeless end up in the River Wards region?


Small World: Could tiny homes for the homeless end up in the River Wards region? It’s looking like it.

Sena said the houses will be constructed with the main purpose of helping and housing homeless veterans, survivors of domestic violence and their pets.

Photos of a tiny house village in Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo by Stephanie Sena.

It likely won’t be long until you begin to see tiny houses along Orleans Street in Kensington. With backing from Philadelphia City Councilmen Mark Squilla and Allan Domb, Villanova University professor Stephanie Sena and the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP) are working with contractors to bring prefabricated tiny homes — complete with electricity and running water — to the River Wards region. Sena said the houses will be constructed with the main purpose of helping and housing homeless veterans, survivors of domestic violence and their pets.

SREHUP is a nonprofit organization comprised of student volunteers “committed to the fight against homelessness in Philadelphia. The volunteers, organized through their respective college chapters, serve the guests at our housing units, participate in fundraising and grant-writing efforts, and advocate for the people experiencing homelessness.”

The college chapters include Villanova University, University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Drexel University and Temple University.

“We’ve had tremendous support,” Sena said. “Especially from the City Council — very specifically Mark Squilla and also Allan Domb, who have been tremendously supportive of our work.”

Sena also said she’s gained support from not only people who are supportive of veterans and pets, but also environmentalists who are attracted to the energy efficiency and environmentalism behind the tiny houses.

“When I said we’re going to have shelter for people and their pets, the animal and pet supporters came out of the woodwork to help me,” she explained, “and then when I said we’re going to be tiny home, the environmentalist came out of the woodwork to help me. So I would say that at this point, our support is massive because there are people who are invested in the project from a variety of different angles.”

The ultimate goal is to have different tiered villages of tiny houses. In the first village, people would live rent free in tiny homes for about a year, and each person would have a “discharge plan,” which would detail things residents need to do to graduate into the second village. The plan could consist of completing classes relevant to resume building, getting into college or GED training. This first village is slated to appear on a currently vacant, city-owned lot at 3809 Frankford Ave.

The first village would also have a “community center or hub,” Sena said, in which residents will have access to resources such as mental health care, physical health care, job training, resume building or financial literacy workshops, according to Sena.

From there, residents will graduate into a second village, where they’ll pay a small government-subsidized rent. While living at the second village, they’ll still have access to the community resources available in the first village. The location of the second village has yet to be determined, but Sena said that people have reached out to her wanting to donate land in Roxborough, which could be a potential option.

However, many potential donors to the project have said that they’d like to see a model home before they decide to give money. For this reason, according to Sena, a model home will be constructed at 2147 E. Orleans St. in Port Richmond. The model home will likely be set up sometime in spring of 2019. Once the model home is set up, Sena and SREHUP hope to have the first village on Frankford Avenue by the end of next winter.

Sena gained inspiration for the idea after visiting tiny home villages in Edinburgh, Scotland and Eugene, Oregon.

Each home is estimated to cost about $75,000 to $85,000. However, Sena thinks the project will come in significantly under budget.

“[When I said that] these homes would be about $75,000 to $85,000, a lot of people came back at us like, ‘Oh, I can do that on a dime,’ ” said Sena. “But the thing is that I think we will do it on a dime — especially because there are people who are coming out of the woodwork who are offering their services and supplies, and there are other tiny house builders who are interested now — especially now that it’s public — in doing it for less.”

Sena has faced criticism for the project. Many people feel that rather than building new homes, her team should be fixing up old and abandoned warehouses to house people in. But Sena has a reason for not doing that.

“If we were to be in a church or school or an industrial warehouse, we’d have to change the zoning,: Sena said. “Changing the zoning is a year-long process and often people who try to change the zoning are often rejected.”

She also said that the project would be less expensive than rehabilitating old abandoned homes.

Domb said it was “unacceptable” that Philadelphia is the poorest of the 10 most populous American cities.

“In order to lift our city out of poverty, we need a few things, we need to improve our education system, we need to create jobs and we need to provide affordable housing. The SREHUP Tiny Homes project is one of many pilot programs in the region doing just that,” he said “The reason I am involved with this program is because Stephanie Sena and her team not only provide a home for people, they provide mental health services, jobs training and financial literacy education. This program is not a Band-Aid on our homelessness issues, it is a step in the right direction for our city. It is my hope that this project provides individuals with the tools to transition out of homelessness and on the road to success.”

A request for comment to Squilla was not returned.

For more information about SREHUP’s initiative, check out this article Sena wrote for Vice. If you’d like to donate to the cause, visit the “First Shelter for Humans AND Pets GoFundMe page here.

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