Can tiny homes help fight homelessness? This city thinks so.

Posted at 5:51 PM, May 05, 2017

Sitting on the front step of his new home, Chris Johnson reflects on where he was just a few weeks ago.

"I was living under the Dearborn Bridge," he said. "Three times in a month and a half I'd come home to my tent and everything is gone. Everything."

After months on the street, Johnson has learned to cherish the little things. Including his new tiny house.

He is one of the newest residents of Seattle's sixth tiny house village.

The villages are part of a technique the city of Seattle has backed since 2015 when Mayor Ed Murray declared homelessness a state of emergency.

The homes, which are around 100 square feet, are small enough they don't need a building permit.

Seattle's Low Income Housing Institute Executive Director Sharon Lee says the program has helped hundreds get off the street as they await permanent housing.

"When people move in here, some of them start crying because they haven't had a door and they haven't had a lock for years," she said. "We think it is a model for people around the country because it's a quick solution. It's inexpensive and ... better than a tent."

The materials for the homes cost $2,200 and are donated, along with the construction labor, by schools, churches and other groups.

The homes are not meant to be a permanent solution for people, but a temporary way out of Seattle's notorious rainy climate and to stay safe while getting back on their feet.

"Seattle's got a lot of good opportunities," Johnson said. "But the resources are really no good to us without something like this where we can actually have a little stability."

"We don't want people to move into a tiny house and stay here for years," Lee said. "This is not a dead end. We want them to get their life together, stabilize, then as quickly as possible move them into housing and jobs."

Johnson says he is thankful for his tiny house, that allows his girlfriend and dog to stay with him, but he's looking forward to when he can move into a permanent home.

Lee says Seattle's mayor is interested in one more tiny house village, bringing the total to seven in the city.

She says neighbors have embraced the villages, much more than a tent city.

The site of the village Johnson lives in is allowed to be there for two years. During that time LIHI is raising money to build permanent affordable housing in its place.