Tiny houses could tackle big problem

STOCKTON — The city soon may take a tiny step toward bringing tiny or micro houses to Stockton as part of a solution to homelessness.

The City Council’s legislative committee last week approved proposed amendments to Stockton’s municipal code, which currently creates obstacles to the establishment of a community of tiny homes. The changes must still be approved by the full council.

If ultimately adopted, Assistant City Attorney Susana Wood said the amendments would begin to create “a viable way to provide very affordable housing to homeless people and others who are finding it very difficult to find any other housing.”

Villages of tiny homes, some as small as 250 square feet, have sprung up in some cities in recent years as a means of providing shelter to the homeless. Stockton’s proposed code changes are based on Fresno municipal codes that took effect at the start of this year.

The potential changes to Stockton’s codes are not intended as a first step toward a financial investment by the city or San Joaquin County into a tiny home village. But they would remove obstacles blocking private entities or individuals from establishing a tiny home venue in Stockton.

“My motivation was to create the conditions to allow it to happen,” said councilman and mayoral candidate Michael Tubbs, who chairs the legislative committee. “I’m taking ownership of what the city can do to make something like this possible. It’s a catalyst because if someone wanted to (bring tiny homes to Stockton), they would not be able to currently.”

Tubbs said he has been discussing proposed amendments for the past two months with city officials, affordable housing nonprofits and representatives from Stockton’s largest homeless shelters.

Jon Mendelson of Central Valley Low Income Housing said he welcomes the proposed changes. As many as 750 individuals were living in shelters in Stockton as of April 1, and 230 were living on the streets as of the start of 2015, Mendelson said.

“We’re happy somebody has taken the initiative to take up some potentially novel approaches to dealing with homelessness in the city,” added Mendelson, whose nonprofit organization provides rent support for homeless households throughout the county.

The proposed amendments, if adopted, would allow for much more detailed planning of what sorts of amenities would be permitted in a tiny house community in Stockton.

Would there be individual bathrooms? What infrastructure would be required? Who would provide services to residents?

A map included in the agenda for the legislative committee meeting showed five possible locations for tiny house communities in Stockton. All were within close proximity of the Stockton Shelter for the Homeless and the Gospel Center Rescue Mission near downtown.

“Homelessness is a chronic factor here in the city,” CEO Carol Ornelas of Visionary Home Builders said during her comments to the legislative committee. “How do we make housing affordable and livable and try to take the tents and the debris out of the areas throughout town?”

Ornelas said she is eager to become involved if the impediments embedded in Stockton’s municipal code are removed.

“We want to fundraise to do the first 50 micro homes in Stockton,” she said. “We believe that we’re going to get community involvement from the business side of this because this is a concern for everybody. How do we as a community answer this problem?”

Ornelas said she believes the project would cost no more than $4,000 a unit.

Mendelson said tiny homes are part of the solution for homelessness, especially if privately funded. Tiny homes, he said, would not necessarily be the best use for public dollars, adding that “a more thorough discussion of how the government can spend its very limited resources” for the homeless is needed.

It is imperative, Mendelson said, that ongoing social services be linked to any venue providing housing to homeless individuals, many of whom are military veterans.

“Support services like mental health care, substance abuse care and some life skills support … that kind of thing is essential in any type of homeless response when we talk about wanting it to be successful,” Mendelson said.

— Contact reporter Roger Phillips at (209) 546-8299 or Follow him at and on Twitter @rphillipsblog.

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