On June 25th, design and planning professionals gathered at AIA North Carolina’s Center for Architecture and Design (CfAD) to listen to a panel of experts discuss opportunities for alleviating homelessness through design. The conversation centered on a hypothetical, transitional housing community, outside of downtown Raleigh, following the announcement of the finalists for Activate14’s Tiny Home Community Ideas Competition.
Activate14 serves as an outreach initiative by AIA North Carolina, and focuses on strengthening the civic role of architecture and design in communities. The competition received over 100 entries of micro-housing community designs, aiming to repair and enliven the urban social fabric and help people transition out of homelessness. The winning entries were those who successfully combined elements of sustainability, modularity and prefabrication.
Following the competition announcement, a panel of city government professionals, as well as transitional housing advocates, discussed opportunities for Raleigh to use the tiny home model as a solution to homelessness. For Jean Williams, Executive Director of the Women’s Center of Wake County, the tiny home provides a solution, particularly for single room occupancy (SRO) housing in communities with little inventory. David Smoot, Board Chair of the Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, pointed out that providing more affordable housing options for singles is often a challenge in mixed-income communities. The tiny home model is designed to fit the housing needs for one or two individuals living together.
Despite the enthusiastic support for the tiny home idea, the model also has its share of skeptics. Pastor and Director of Love Wins Ministries, Hugh Hollowell, remains skeptical of the tiny home model. “Words like ‘modularity,’ 'affordable,’ and ‘movable’ sound like a trailer park .” Design, he argued, can only address one component of the problem. In order to get more than 887 homeless individuals in Raleigh off the street and into stable homes, it requires integration into a community’s existing fabric, as well as continued support.
While there was some lively disagreement from many on the panel in regards to tiny homes, all of the panel experts agreed that bricks and mortar are not enough for solving the transitional housing shortage. “We cannot build our way out of homelessness,” said Smoot. Formulating a comprehensive solution will not be easy, as Raleigh does not have a long-range affordability plan in place when it comes to housing. In order for this to become a priority, communities must come together and incite action from their representatives.
According Raleigh City Council member, Mary-Ann Baldwin, Raleigh is in a good position to adopt a tiny home model for a transitional housing community since the current city code allows for their construction. North Carolina already has successful models of transitional housing, such as Charlotte’s Moore Place, that Raleigh can look to while discussing solutions.
Certainly location and home design can encourage activity and foster a greater sense of community, but in what other ways can designers contribute to solutions for the homeless? In what other ways can designers contribute to the homelessness solution?
Credits: Images by Rachel Eberhard. Data linked to sources.