Philly turning to tiny houses as affordable option for homeless people

Pat Loeb
July 29, 2019 - 4:00 am
Tiny houses are gaining ground in Philadelphia: A homeless services group broke ground on one last week in Port Richmond, and another group is looking to establish a cluster of them in West Philadelphia.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Tiny houses are gaining ground in Philadelphia. A homeless services group broke ground on one last week in Port Richmond, and another group is looking to establish a cluster of them in West Philadelphia. 

Tiny houses may have started out as a lifestyle choice, but as cities grow steadily more expensive, more and more are turning to them as affordable housing options for the homeless. 

Stephanie Sena of Student Run Emergency Housing broke ground on what she hopes is the first of many in a vacant lot on a block of rowhouses.

"We've been operating in church basements and now we are breaking ground and doing what we can to increase the inventory of affordable housing in the city of Philadelphia," Sena said. 

Related: Inside the Law: Tiny Houses, Big Legal Issues

Sena calls her model a "cozy cottage" — about a thousand square feet made from a kit for about $75,000.

Another initiative under way would create a village of eight to 10 much smaller units that would be a first step out of homelessness.  

Cathy Farrell was so inspired reading about Seattle's use of tiny houses to shelter the homeless she formed a nonprofit to do it here. Sanctuary Village, as she envisions it, would be cluters of very small homes, about 100 square feet, built around a common area.

"A community bathhouse, laundry, kitchen so that people are meeting in community, supporting each other and then there's a place for a case worker to come and meet with them individually," she explained. 

Farrell says putting a cluster together helps overcome the feeling of isolation that newly housed people often feel.

"It will allow them to live in community and to get the services that they need," she added. 

Farrell is looking at a site in West Philadelphia but, like Sena, hopes more can be built if they succeed.