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Hamilton will debate putting tiny homes in lower city laneways

Posted: September 21, 2017

By Samantha Craggs, CBC News Posted: Sep 19, 2017 12:25 PM ET Last Updated: Sep 19, 2017 12:25 PM ET

Occupy Madison has built a village of units that are about 99 square feet. Hamilton city councillors will discuss using laneway properties for tiny homes of no more than 425 square feet. (Occupy Madison)

Tiny homes are gaining momentum across North America as a way to get homeless people into affordable housing. Now Hamilton decision makers will look at how to use some of the city’s laneways to build tiny homes here.

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, wants the city to identify lots for standalone homes no bigger than 425 square feet — about the size of three parking spaces.

These houses have provided dignified living for people elsewhere, Green’s motion says. He envisions homes with bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms, and even a porch and deck.

Green wants staff to identify some “detached, secured, serviced lots that could provide for future land tenure and individual ownership,” his motion says. It’ll be discussed on Oct. 3.

In Hamilton, two local organizations are already making this happen.

Good Shepherd and the Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) is working on an as-yet-unnamed project to build duplexes of tiny units for women in danger of homelessness. At their smallest, the units will be a little over 400 square feet.

Advocates say smaller units are more cost effective to build and maintain than high-rise buildings. And Hamilton has multiple laneway properties in its lower city. A city report later this year will outline how many. If Green’s motion passes, that report will include suggestions for where to put tiny homes.

There are several tiny home projects across North America. In Madison, Wisc., for example, Occupy Madison built a tiny village with houses as small as 99 square feet. Its inhabitants are formerly homeless.

In Detroit, Cass Community Social Services is building as many as 25 tiny homes. But they’re not a fit for everyone, organizers say. They’re only suitable for single people who earn at least $10,000 per year. Residents must also attend financial coaching classes and spend at least eight hours each month volunteering to help out the neighbourhood.

One of the earliest examples of the concept is Second Wind Cottages in Newfield, NY, where mechanic Carmen Guidi built a dozen 320-square-foot cottages for homeless men. Each cost $12,000 US to build.

Guidi told CBC News this year that he started his project when he noticed chronically homeless people in his community. So he used a plot of his own land and started building.

The units were only small, he said, because he couldn’t afford to make them bigger. Now he’s inundated with calls from groups wanting to do the same.

“The president of Switzerland toured here,” he said.

Green gave city council’s planning committee a heads up on Tuesday that he’ll bring up the subject next month.

Second Wind Cottages in Newfield, NY provides cottages of about 320 square feet. (Second Wind Cottages)