Ready to roll

Photo by Ken Smith

CHAT’s Bob Trausch says the organization has several tiny homes that could be placed and made livable by early 2019.

After more than five years of researching, planning and politicking, the Chico Housing Action Team’s plan to create a tiny home community known as Simplicity Village is closer than ever to becoming a reality.

In fact, CHAT Director Bob Trausch said Tuesday (Nov. 27) that the increased need for housing in the wake of the Camp Fire, coupled with the installation of the Chico City Council’s new progressive majority at its next regular meeting (Dec. 4), could lead to the first homes being placed and providing housing relief as early as January.

The project, which aims to provide 33 tiny homes and wrap-around services for up to 46 senior citizens who’ve experienced or are at risk of experiencing homelessness, took a big step forward when the council approved the project’s concept on Nov. 20. The panel balked that night, however, when it came to approving its proposed location—a 2.6-acre vacant lot on Notre Dame Boulevard south of Morrow Lane. This led Councilman Randall Stone, an outspoken supporter of the project, to cast a strategic nay vote so that the matter could be brought back up once the newly configured council takes the dais. (A council member may request for reconsideration only a matter he/she opposed.)

Indeed, Councilman Karl Ory indicated that’s exactly what he and the other progressives intend to do. “It was disappointing that the old council voted [as a conservative majority] against … but clearly there is a majority now that wants to move forward with this,” he told the CN&R.

Trausch said that he expects the panel to revisit the issue during its second meeting, on Dec. 18. If the location is given the final nod then—and if the city were to make some exceptions to building requirements as allowed by the declaration of a shelter crisis it approved in October—Trausch said CHAT is ready to break ground immediately.

The nonprofit has five homes built by Chico State’s Tiny House Club, with commitments from local builders to construct three more. He said CHAT is talking to another organization that has 10 tiny homes nearly ready to be deployed and that volunteers are prepared to provide the necessary finishing work, like drywall and paint.

For an accelerated opening, Trausch said portable toilets and other amenities would need to be used temporarily while permanent infrastructure—such as sewer, water and gas connections—is installed.

“We could provide some services within a month, but it would be up to the city to let us do that,” he said.

In a separate interview Tuesday, CHAT member Charles Withuhn said Simplicity Village will benefit some Camp Fire survivors who lost their homes, as well as the existing homeless individuals the project was originally conceived to benefit. “There will definitely be a balance,” he said.

Withuhn said that, while providing immediate relief is important, he also wants to ensure that his group takes the time to get things right: “We want Simplicity Village to be a model that other communities can follow, something durable and attractive and livable that we can be proud of.”

Both CHAT members spoke about the deep links between Paradise and Chico, and how the massive loss of housing will affect both communities.

“It’s crisis on top of crisis,” Trausch said. “There was a crisis before the fire, because there’s so many people who are homeless. On top of that, there’s another crisis in that there are no homes or land available in the community, and certainly nothing affordable for most people. We already had that problem, and now [housing] prices are going out of sight.”

Trausch said that while the Simplicity Village project is meant to provide “bridge” housing for people to get back on their feet, he believes similar communities are the future of permanent housing as the region rebuilds from the fire.

“Our longer-term goal is to replicate this model to provide quick, affordable housing throughout the community,” he said. “Things were bad, and now they’re worse. Unless we do things differently, there’s nowhere for people to go but the street.”