Modesto commits $3 million to build tiny homes for homeless people. What are the next steps for the city?
The Modesto City Council has pledged to spend $3 million to build tiny homes for homeless people, but the first shelters will be at least a few months away from opening.
The project depends on the city finding partners to provide land for the homes, manage the cases of the people who live in them, and property managers to manage the sites and companies that provide this housing.
Community and Economic Development Director Jessica Hill told council members at their meeting Tuesday that city officials expect potential locations for the tiny homes to be presented to them for approval by late January or early February. The city will then connect the owners of these sites with case management providers and property managers who have experience with these types of projects.
The $3 million covers the cost of the tiny homes and associated improvements, including temporary buildings for bathrooms, showers and offices, connecting structures to utilities and site preparation work.
A city report estimates that each 60- to 120-square-foot tiny house would cost $75,000.
That works out to $17,000 for the home, $30,000 for site preparation and improvement, $8,000 for utilities, $8,000 for bathrooms, showers and offices, plus $12,000 in soft costs, according to a PowerPoint presentation at Tuesday’s council meeting.
Hill stressed that the $75,000 figure is an estimate and that actual costs will vary based on the characteristics of each potential site. Sites can be vacant lots, churches, and commercial properties. But at an estimated cost of $75,000 per tiny house, $3 million would provide 40 homes.
He calls for safe camping
The $3 million does not include case management costs, property management and other services. The city will work with providers to mobilize funding from the state, federal and Stanislaus County governments.
The project comes at a time when homelessness remains a crisis in California, including Modesto, and with some members of the public calling on the city to create safe campsites for the homeless as an alternative to them sleeping in city parks, in alleys behind homes and at businesses. .
Council members rejected that at the Oct. 20 meeting, where members voted 4-3 against a motion to conduct staff research into the proposal and come back for possible final approval.
Mayor Sue Zwahlen and Council Members Rosa Escutia-Bratton, Jeremiah Williams and David Wright voted against the proposal. It had the support of Eric Alvarez, Nick Bavaro and Chris Ritchie, who were involved in drafting the plan over several months.
The number of homeless people this year throughout Stanislaus County was 2,091 men, women and children, including 1,642 in Modesto. About 711 Modesto homeless residents were homeless at the time of the count, which was conducted in late January over a 24-hour period.
But these annual statistics — called census counts and required by the federal government for jurisdictions that receive federal homeless funding — are snapshots of homelessness and are not definitive.
Modesto resident Diane Crozey praised the city at Tuesday’s council meeting for its housing efforts, but said the city needs to start safe campsites now to help homeless people living outdoors.
She said the homeless are living in the cold and many are sick, elderly and disabled and they are “waiting and waiting.” …The timing of (the tiny houses) is not humane.”
Modesto officials praised
Modesto resident Derek Castle, who has been an advocate for safe camping, said he was “very happy with what city staff has proposed” and singled out Hill and other community and economic development officials as well as City Manager Joe Lopez for praise.
“This will really help,” he said, although he added that the pace is not as fast as he would like. He also said the city needs to do something to help homeless people during the winter.
Tiny homes can be in multiple locations. City officials will vet each proposal before submitting it to the City Council for approval. Modesto could also allocate more money for tiny homes if the number of viable projects exceeds $3 million.
Councilman Ritchie said at Tuesday’s meeting that he wishes the tiny homes were created sooner, and said that while they are not enough to address homelessness, they are a step in the right direction.
“We are dealing with homelessness, which is really difficult,” he said after the meeting. “We have a variety of opinions on how to deal with homelessness. But I’m really proud of how the council has come together to make things better.”