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Mindful : June 2015
A Wee Village In the summer of 2010, as the recession subsided, Andrew Heben, a university student, visited “Camp Take Notice,” a tent city in Ann Arbor, Michigan, formed in the wreckage of the mortgage crisis. When he returned to school, he wrote a thesis on tent cities. “There are a lot of negative articles about violence and drugs in tent cities,” says Heben. “ But in the ones I visited I found a lot of positive social dynamics.” Heben graduated in 2011, a nd moved to Eugene, Oregon. Within a few months, a new wave of tent cities swept the nation: Occupy Wall Street. In Eugene, demonstrators ca mped out in a public park. The protest unified the community in a fight against homelessness and economic inequality, but the camp was evicted within a few months. In response, Heben helped develop a community of 30 tiny houses, called Opportunity Village. It opened in August 2013. Tiny houses work for affordable housing because, like tent villages and shantytowns, tiny houses can be constructed and maintained by their residents, and by clustering them in villages they can achieve the density of an apar tment building. In 2014 the city council and residents expressed over whelming support for more affordable shelter for the homeless, and Heben was hired to develop more tiny housing. He immediately started pla nning Emerald Village, a tiny house community where the residents will have shared ownership. “I think that’s exciting,” says Heben. “ Very low-income people will actually have equity in their housing. That’s virtu- ally impossible in our society today.” For Heben the tiny house fad provides an oppor- tunity to reframe low-income settlements, like Camp Take Notice. “ We’re taking an idea that might be seen as radical, and attaching it to something cute. It’s a lot smaller, but it still looks like a house.” But, tiny houses face challenges beyond public perceptions. For now, they exist in legal limbo. Tiny homebuilders have to circumvent building codes and zoning reg ulations—which were never written with tiny houses in mind—by classifying their homes as “storage structures” or “trailers” (which is why so many tiny houses are on wheels). “I’m interested in confronting the issue rather than just continuing to find loopholes that allow it to exist in some g ray area,” says Heben. “A growing number of people want to do this. We need to make it a viable option.” By providing a nother housing option, tiny houses change the way we think about homes. “Building small is much bigger than the tiny house move- ment,” Heben concludes. Building small empowered Dawn Higgins to buy a comfortable, luxurious home. It helped the Kasls find freedom in simplicity. It gave Eugene’s home- less warm beds to sleep in. More broadly, sma ller thinking gives people a chance to reexamine what they really want (Solar power? Fewer dishes? More fa mily time?). Sma ller homes are about comfort, happy memories, a nd the simple idea that our houses should fit our lives. After all, nothing is as important as feeling at home. ● Sam Littlefair Wallace is a features writer and the assistant editor of LionsRoar.com. Follow Sam on Twitter: @smlfw. Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon, hosts 30 tiny houses, which share utilities like electricity and plumbing. Occupied by formerly homeless citizens, the village sets a precedent in Eugene for a new kind of affordable housing, and has been met with overwhelming public support. PHOTOGRAPHBYLEAHNASH June 2015 mindful 55