As cold weather settles in, a tiny home developer wants to place 10 units in Chattanooga's sanctioned homeless camp at 12th and Peeples streets, which would be there temporarily as the city prepares to officially close the site Feb. 1.
The project would first require approval from the city's downtown zoning committee, which will meet Thursday afternoon to consider an application from the company, Practical Revolution.
Joseph Basel, the owner of Practical Revolution, expects the approximately 80-square-foot units would replace 10 tents at the sanctioned camp. Designed to be transitional for someone seeking permanent housing, the structures will have windows, electrical outlets, heat and deadbolt-locking doors, Basel said.
In the future, Basel hopes to see other local organizations place tiny homes on their properties to serve as housing for the homeless. The project at the sanctioned homeless camp would help demonstrate that the model could be a feasible option elsewhere in the city, he said.
"We know a bigger ask without more buy-in would not be possible, probably," Basel said in a phone call. "We're trying to be reasonable and do it right -- tiny, baby steps."
Brooke Satterfield, deputy chief of staff in Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly's office, said Practical Revolution reached out to the city several months ago to talk about its products, with the Washington D.C. business indicating it was interested in using the sanctioned camp site.
Existing residents could move into the tiny homes as they wait for permanent housing elsewhere, Satterfield said.
"As they are waiting for housing and as the encampment is shutting down, this will be a little more of a controlled atmosphere that's a little bit warmer so they're not in tents over the winter months," Satterfield said in a phone call.
Regardless, Satterfield said, the sanctioned camp will close Feb. 1, meaning the tiny homes — if they're approved — would also disappear from the site at that time. The project would occur at no cost to the city, a city spokesperson said.
In August, the city extended its contract with the nonprofit operator of the camp, Help Right Here, for six months to give officials time to move residents into permanent housing, increasing the nonprofit's contract by $81,850 to $286,475.
At the time, there were 33 people living in the camp, which is not admitting more residents. Satterfield said Tuesday there are about 20 people still in the camp. Six people are in the queue for a housing placement through the Chattanooga Housing Authority, and the rest of the camp's residents are working with the city's office of homelessness and supportive housing.
"We anticipate all of these individuals will be housed by that Feb. 1 date," Satterfield said.
City leaders are trying to establish a 24/7 low-barrier homeless shelter in a transit building at 710. E. 12th St., a project they say is completely separate from the temporary tiny homes that Practical Revolution wants to place in the sanctioned homeless camp.
"The city has no plans to build a tiny home village of any sort within the Onion Bottom neighborhood area at this time," Satterfield said.
Chattanooga officials have also partnered with the company Branch Technology of Chattanooga to place two 3D-printed tiny homes on property owned by Olivet Baptist Church on East 12th Street. The 12-month pilot period for those homes will end in April, Satterfield said. Four people have moved from those units into permanent housing, a city spokesperson said. Another two are currently living the 3D-printed shelters.
"We would still like to able to utilize those units," Satterfield said. "We at this point don't have another partnership agreement in mind on those."
Practical Revolution has worked on other tiny home projects across the United States, according to its website. It hopes to build up to 50,000 homes in Southern California and is negotiating on land for multiple villages around Washington D.C., the company says. Basel said he would like to see support for a tiny home campus in Chattanooga -- one that's in a healthy location with proper services.
On its website, the company says it aims to design communities that provide vulnerable people with wraparound services at a fraction of the cost of permanent supportive housing and in a scalable way. It's still adopting a housing-first approach, Practical Revolution says, but trying to rally more community involvement while addressing scaling costs and land use issues.
Temporary structures aren't accounted for in the city's downtown zoning, a city spokesperson said, which is why the committee is considering a variance for the project.
Basel said he's seen significant interest from local organizations in using tiny homes as a solution to homelessness.
"This is forcing the answer of: Is the city going to allow all of those people and all of those philanthropists in town and all of those faith-based organizations to help people or not?" he said about the vote Thursday. "Are they going to use zoning to make it impossible for all of those organizations and all of those families to be part of the solution?"
Niki Keck, co-founder of Help Right Here, said one of Practical Revolution's tiny homes has been at the camp for several months to act as a cooling and warming shelter. Providing residents with a shelter that has a locking door would take care of many issues, she said. As is, tents have not been sustainable.
"We're done with the tents," she said in a phone call. "The elements have been horrible on the tents. We can't keep our residents at a good temperature."