Tiny Homes: A Patch, Not a Solution, to Homelessness

In response to the nationwide homelessness crisis, tiny home villages have emerged as a popular but controversial solution. With over 650,000 people without housing in the United States, the number of tiny home communities hasquadrupled from just 34 in 2019 to 123 today. This growth, largely funded by philanthropists, businesses, and corporations, reflects an urgent attempt to address the immediate needs of the homeless population. However, critics argue that tiny homes, while beneficial, are merely a temporary fix to a much larger problem: the lack of affordable housing.

Philanthropic Support Driving Growth

Significant philanthropic support is responsible for much of the expansion of tiny home villages. Billionaire John Sobrato’s Sobrato Philanthropies, along with other notable foundations like the James M. Cox and Valhalla foundations, have been instrumental in funding these projects in high-cost cities such as San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. In Austin, Texas, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation supports a large 51-acre tiny home community, while the Oak Foundation has funded similar projects in rural North Carolina.

Despite these efforts, tiny homes only serve a fraction of the homeless population. You can build these small dwellings, typically between 100 and 400 square feet, quickly and at a relatively low cost. However, the larger challenges of securing permits, financing, and government approval often result in significant delays and increased expenses.

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Short-Term Relief vs. Long-Term Solutions

Experts like Margot Kushel, director of the Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative at UCSF, acknowledge the importance of tiny homes but emphasise that they are not a permanent solution. “Tiny homes are an important part of the ecosystem, but they are not housing,” Kushel asserts. The primary issue remains the widespread lack of affordable housing.

In North Carolina’s Chatham County, the Tiny Homes Village at the Farm at Penny Lane illustrates both the potential and limitations of this approach. Developed by the health and wellness nonprofit Cross Disability Services (XDS), this project has taken eight years to complete. Funded by the Oak Foundation and partnering with the UNC School of Social Work, the village will provide affordable housing to people with serious mental illness, offering 400-square-foot homes with essential amenities. However, the lengthy process underscores the challenges of scaling such initiatives quickly.

California’s Housing Crisis

California, with over 181,000 people experiencing homelessness, faces the most severe housing crisis in the nation.Governor Gavin Newsom’s pledge to build 1,200 tiny homes has only led to the purchase of about 150 units, none of which have opened yet. Philanthropy has stepped in to accelerate construction, as seen with the Sobrato Family Foundation’s lease of land in San Jose for a tiny home village managed by Dignity Moves.

Elizabeth Funk, CEO of Dignity Moves, explains that their model relies on philanthropic funding for construction, with cities covering ongoing supportive services. This approach provides stability and a more humane alternative to traditional homeless shelters, allowing residents to stay for six months to two years. However, Funk acknowledges that tiny homes are a temporary measure: “It is true that this is not a long-term solution. It’s a waiting room. It is a dignified waiting room.”

Broader Implications and Criticisms

Tiny home communities, while beneficial, do not address the root causes of homelessness. Sceptics like Jesse Rabinowitz from the National Homelessness Law Centre argue that these initiatives often divert attention from the need forpermanent, affordable housing. “It’s good that cities and states are addressing the fact that people are living outside. Nobody should live outside, especially in the richest country,” Rabinowitz states. However, he remains conflicted about tiny homes, viewing them as a stopgap rather than a solution.


While tiny homes offer immediate relief and stability for some homeless individuals, they are not a panacea for the homelessness crisis. The success of these initiatives hinges on broader systemic changes, including the development of affordable housing and comprehensive social services. As the debate continues, it is clear that tiny homes, though valuable, are just one piece of the puzzle in addressing homelessness in America.


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