In this day and age, we all strive to do everything on our own. We don’t ask for help. We don’t look around to see how to help others. When we are all trying to get ahead, some are just trying to survive. It’s a very isolating place to be and can make matters worse for many people. Alternative housing projects, like the Tiny House Village in Oshkosh, are working to change that for the areas’ most compromised populations, the folks in extreme poverty or crisis. That change at the Tiny House Village starts with the community the village will establish for its residents.
We spoke with Todd Mandel from the Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development (WPHD), on-site for the developing Tiny House Village to get an inside look at the goals for the project.
The overall vision for the village
The Oshkosh Kids Foundation and their private donor, architect, builder, and housing authority created the vision and did the work of getting the project off the ground. During this process a project partner needed to bow out and a new partner needed to be found to handle long-term ownership and operation of the project. Through a series of connections, the Wisconsin Partnership for Housing Development became involved.
WPHD is committed to housing for everyone because it’s essential for building healthy communities. They accomplish this by directly developing quality housing and consulting with local groups to provide them with the expertise and capacity to expand affordable housing in their communities.
They can get a project done if there is money and community support, which they work to find.
Community is everything
According to Todd, the first thing the general public needs to understand is that if your life was living in a hotel, campground, or car, you have nothing but trauma and crisis. It is possible, short-term, but to live your whole life like that is unsustainable. The goal of the community at the village is to bring this vulnerable population in and, as Todd puts it, “stop the bleeding, stabilize the patient, and get help for recovery.” Then, after they are housed and have established stability, the residents can start to look at moving on to subsidized or unsubsidized rental housing. Part of becoming stabilized is securing regular income, whether that is through employment, benefits, or other sources. With income and a developing rental history, the household can begin looking for permanent housing. However, it is very difficult to begin that process when a household is homeless and thus moving frequently.
Why starting with the community is important?
Stability is necessary to move on from trauma. The kids living in this environment daily are not sitting in class paying attention when they don’t know where they will be sleeping that night. The instability causes secondary trauma like lack of food, healthcare, a place to do homework, or even the safety and comfort to read a book. This community will eventually house 32 families who can rely on the community services through the village and each other.
The tiny home village is perfect for homeless families needing to reestablish their lives. It is a safe and stable environment to help a parent with children land, survive and thrive.
The community center
The community center is the first building to be built on the site. That was done on purpose to act as an anchor for the village. There will be a full-time case manager from ADVOCAP that will be available at the community center. ADVOCAP is a non-profit Community Action Agency founded in 1966 to fight poverty within our local communities.
To qualify as a village resident, tenants must go through the ADVOCAP rental assistance program and choose to live in the village. Each family will be assigned a case manager and the case manager will work with families to get stabilized and help build a rental history. The counselor is there to help with any road bumps along the way and put the wheels back on.
The community center will also serve as a convening location for other community assets to provide services and resources for the tenants. For example, The Boys and Girls Club can offer tutoring, a financial counselor will teach money management, and a mental health counselor will help people put the pieces back together.
WPHD will have a staff member on site who lives and works to manage the community center and the social programs for the village. They will also act as a liaison between the community and the project. Additionally, there will be a professional property manager who manages the properties themselves. They will be responsible for issuing and enforcing lease agreements, handling repair requests, and ensuring routine operations get carried out.
The community center has an event space with a kitchen to hold different events and community gatherings. There is classroom space on-site for resident children to have class or do their homework and a computer lab to submit homework online. The computer lab is also there for the adults to be able to take online training classes and apply for employment. All tiny houses will be supplied with WIFI, but residents must supply their own computers. The community center also has on-site laundry facilities.
The development site
The village is on Packard Avenue on the north side of Oshkosh, just off of Jackson street. This location gives residents easy access to Jackson, is on the bus line, and is close to the interstate and a main route into the city proper. The traffic in the area is one of the lowest volumes of all the big roads, with 2,200 cars a day, unlike Jackson street, at 16,000 cars a day on Jackson. In a sense, the area is quiet, which is perfect for a family who is moving from a hotel, campground, or car and has no real sense of calm. The tiny house is their own little place, with easy access to transportation for jobs and school.
Unlike a duplex, the tiny homes are separate and have no shared walls. This can help reduce drama and conflict from being connected to their neighbor. The village residents may encounter drama of their own making, but the counselors and managers at the community center are prepared to help them through it.
When will building be completed?
We asked Todd about the estimated completion date for the project. He said, “The community center has moved from its foundation stage to having the framing built. This build is expected to go through January of 2023. Land development and infrastructure will also start being brought in during this time.”
“The plan is to start installing the first eight tiny house units in early spring. Once the first eight are rented, the installation of the next eight will begin with the expectation that all 32 units will be placed by July 2023. Working in phases allows the infrastructure to be taken care of before the homes arrive. The homes are prefabricated off-site and will be installed when the land is ready.”
The Tiny House Village partner’s goal is to substantially impact the community and perform at a high level over time. Second, it will establish a model other communities can use to help their homeless and crisis populations move from surviving to thriving. According to Todd, “The City of Oshkosh has been a great partner at making the project happen.”
Update on the tiny house build
We got to see inside the tiny house on this visit. The inside is all framed and is currently being used as a headquarters to facilitate the work on the community center.
As you look around the framed areas, you can see the living area, the kitchen area, the bathroom, and the main bedroom, with bunk beds in the second room.
It is exciting to be part of this project, even if it’s on the outside looking in. At Alternative Housing Options, we will stay on top of updates at the village and keep readers informed.
Alternative housing projects, like the Tiny House Village in Oshkosh, are working to change that for the areas’ most compromised populations, the folks in extreme poverty or crisis. That change at the Tiny House Village starts with the community the village will establish for its residents.