A tiny housing project hopes to be a big solution to the affordable housing problem in Toronto

Parkdale Villager

A group of Torontonians are thinking small – tiny, even – when it comes to finding a solution to the affordable housing crisis in the city.

Spear-headed by Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre (PARC) ambassador Bonnie Briggs, the Tiny Houses Project aims to build pint size mobile abodes for the homeless.

“I think it’s a great project. The houses don’t cost much to build. It wouldn’t be hard to maintain them or keep them clean and you can pretty much put them anywhere,” said Briggs.

Tiny houses can range anywhere from 400 to 600 square-feet and can cost as little at $20,000 and can rise to roughly $60,000 depending on building materials. It can also be mobile and be moved anywhere.

It’s being treated by those involved in the project as a way to combat the long wait lists for those in desperate need of subsidized housing. The project is still in its infancy and the committee, comprising of about 15 individuals from various backgrounds, – an architect, carpenter and social worker – are still working out some kinks as they settle into the planning phase of the project.

They’re working on building a demo of a tiny house for Torontonians to see and spark their interest to get involved. But first they must find land and ensure the pilot home meets the city’s building codes.

The local councillor for Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park Gord Perks is advising the group and has stressed the importance of safe housing above all else.

“I’m glad that people are looking for creative ways to solve housing problems, but the barrier they’ve run into has to do with building code and fire safety,” Perks said.

“We want to make sure these places don’t catch fire, the (electrical) wiring is good and their drinking water is safe.”

The Building Code Act, 1992, which governs the construction, renovation and change-of-use of a building in the province of Ontario states the uniform minimum standards regarding the safety of buildings include, fire protection, structural sufficiency, plumbing and mechanical system, health and safety and construction materials.

All standards have to be met in order for the City of Toronto to amend any necessary bylaws to approve of its construction.

“If we can figure out how to work with the building code so that we’re making safe units I’m always willing to look at new ways to house some of the population,” Perks added.

“If they do it and everything is up to snuff, it becomes one of the suite of tools that we have for getting new affordable housing in the city of Toronto and that’s always good.”

The tiny house trend has quickly become a tiny house movement in the United States, with websites, magazines and television shows dedicated to helping those interested in downsizing.

But just late last week a tiny house village was opened in Capitol Hill, Seattle with 14 tiny homes built for the homeless, an effort put forth by the Low Income Housing Institute. Briggs would like to see something similar in the city and the Tiny Houses Project committee is dedicated to bringing this movement to Toronto, with the help of organizations, such as PARC and the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust (PNLT).

“I just want to get people off the street and housed,” Briggs said.

“It’s no fun (being homeless) believe me.”

Briggs had a brush with homelessness. Back in the ‘80s, she and her husband were homeless for about two years. To date there are about 47 emergency shelters available to Toronto’s homeless that accept, youth, mixed adults, family, men, and women, according to the City of Toronto website. But Briggs believes it’s still not enough, it’s not safe and it’s not clean. That’s why she never stayed in one when she was homeless, she said.

“A lot of homeless say they’ll take their chances on the street,” Briggs told The Villager.

“It was just a struggle every night to have a decent place to sleep… Nobody wants to stay in a shelter. Shelters aren’t the answer.”

The Tiny Houses Project main goal is securing land, which is scarce in the city. However, they are looking at the option of potentially stationing a demo house in Downsview Park or even in the backyard of a willing home owner.

“I really believe people want to help people. I believe people would do it (donate their backyard) if they were aware,” said Kimberly Curry, the executive director of the Seeds of Hope Foundation involved in the project. “There’s no doubt that finding a location is going to be tough. It’s the most difficult aspect of this, but we believe the space is there. When you drive all over the city you see places.”

The Seeds of Hope Foundation has community homes that offer a variety of resources and support programs for marginalized Torontonians. It hopes to restore the homeless’ sense of dignity through the project while simultaneously making it a viable form of housing.

“When everything you have has been stripped away, your dignity is squashed,” Curry explained.

“To reignite that is important and it starts with homes first and we want to make sure it’s a sustainable, long-term alternative.”