Getting Cozy

“At one time, we thought our greatest challenge would be NIMBYism - not in my backyard,” said SREHUP’s leader, Stephanie Sena, who lives in Squilla’s councilmanic district and is an adjunct professor at Villanova University, “but through ongoing relationship building with our neighbors, we have worked to get from NIMBY to YIMBY - yes in my backyard,”

Stephanie Sena speaks at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. | Photo by Tom Beck

City councilmembers Allan Domb and Mark Squilla gathered in Port Richmond at the end of July to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia’s (SREHUP) first “cozy cottage” home at 2147 E. Orleans St. The 900-square-foot home is designed to be the pilot house that will serve as proof of concept for investors who plan to financially back SREHUP’s plan to combat the housing crisis in Philadelphia by building inexpensive tiny homes around the city. 

“At one time, we thought our greatest challenge would be NIMBYism – not in my backyard,” said SREHUP’s leader, Stephanie Sena, who lives in Squilla’s councilmanic district and is an adjunct professor at Villanova University, “but through ongoing relationship building with our neighbors, we have worked to get from NIMBY to YIMBY – yes in my backyard,” 

Sena described the housing as “low barrier,” specifically by invoking what she called “the three P’s: people’s partners, their property and their pets, all of which are welcome in all of SREHUP’s planned housing. Sena said the housing will be prioritized for homeless veterans and survivors of domestic violence.

According to Sena, about 25 percent of people who experience homelessness have pets.

Both city councilmembers Allan Domb (left) and mark Squilla (right) were instrumental in finding a spot for SREHUP’s pilot house. | Photo by Tom Beck

“What we’re seeing in Philadelphia is, in the majority of cases of people who can’t afford to be housed with their pets, end up having to put their pet in a pet shelter,” she said. “Most often, that’s ACCT.”

ACCT, or the Animal Care & Control Team of Philadelphia, “is at full capacity and has a very high rate of animal euthanasia,” Sena said.

Sena said the houses are panelized, which allows them to be built in as little as two weeks. They’ll have running water and electricity. 

“Our model is based off of what has worked well in other cities throughout the country and the world,” said Sena. “They have something similar to this in Eugene, Oregon and also in Edinburgh, Scotland.”

The homes will cost somewhere in the range of $75,000 to $90,000. The first home is being built with a zero-interest loan from Domb.

“The tiny homes pilot project is a great opportunity for the City of Philadelphia to explore other forms of affordable housing,” Domb said. “As the city works to combat homelessness, I am proud to work with organizations like SREHUP to provide housing, resources and education for residents.”

Back in November, Sena said that 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.

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

“Through our strong partnerships with service providers and eight local universities, SREHUP is able to provide mental health care, physical health care, financial literacy courses, GED training, job training and job-acquisition assistance, along with housing workshops,” Sena said Wednesday. “Low-income and previously homeless individuals will have low-barrier access to housing in a city where [home] prices are skyrocketing.”

Sena said that those who live in the house will be put on a path to home ownership.

“We’re not just going to put a person in a home and be like, ‘Here’s you mortgage, and you have to pay this or get out,’ ” she said. “The payments are going to be more flexible because we’re not looking to make a profit. And in order to be sustainable – our money is not coming from the homeowners and their mortgages because we’re getting housing sponsors.”

Sena’s “best guess” is that mortgages for people who come in will be between “$200 to $500 a month.”

“I am proud to work with SREHUP on the tiny homes pilot project that will be an example of building affordable housing in existing neighborhoods so that all people can some day achieve the dream of home ownership,” said Squilla.