Volunteer coordinator Debbi Steele, center, welcomes visitors to Saturday’s Community Build Project open house in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Volunteer coordinator Debbi Steele, center, welcomes visitors to Saturday’s Community Build Project open house in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Community receives tour of tiny house village

Rental spaces come with rules, 90-day leases

PORT TOWNSEND — The shelters are tiny, but there was nothing small about their open house.

Some 400 people saw the new, bright array of tiny shelters at the Community Build Project site on Saturday afternoon, volunteer coordinator Debbi Steele estimated.

She knows from having welcomed them all to the open house that turned into a block party.

During the past three months, 10 tiny homes — eight 96-square-foot singles and two 160-square-foot doubles — were constructed by volunteers in the field beside the Evangelical Bible Church on San Juan Avenue. Saturday was the day builders introduced them to the wider community.

People poured in and milled around, looked inside the shelters and the larger kitchen-commons unit. Set up around the yellow, blue, green, purple and cream-colored structures were local housing organizations’ information tables, plus a big tent over trays of donated cookies, fruit and soft drinks.

Project volunteers, elected officials, Port Townsend City Council candidates, Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies and Housing Solutions Network members chatted with one another about the future of the shelters, which form the second village funded by the nonprofit Bayside Housing & Services, a provider of transitional homes in the county.

The first village, Peter’s Place, opened last winter beside Port Hadlock’s Community United Methodist Church. It was also built by volunteers in a few months and named after Peter Bonyun, who spearheaded the project.

“The idea was to just do it,” Jesse Thomas, the architect behind the tiny houses, said Saturday.

Last fall, when Peter’s Place was only an idea, people showed up with their energy and skills. They did it then, and with this second project, they did it again.

“This is a little bit of a sea change,” said Kim Thomson, who was involved in a similar but unsuccessful effort to construct tiny homes seven years ago.

The pandemic has brought homelessness, evictions and the paucity of affordable places to live into sharper focus in Jefferson County, she added.

“This is a reminder of how important this kind of moment is: bringing all of the different housing organizations together,” said Justine Gonzalez-Berg, director of the Housing Solutions Network.

Set up alongside her network on Saturday were Bayside, Olympic Community Action Programs (OlyCAP), Olympic Housing Trust (formerly Homeward Bound) and Habitat for Humanity — agencies on the continuum of the county’s housing crisis.

Bayside has secured land for the next tiny-house village at 10th and Rosecrans streets, a full city block with good access to public transit, Jefferson Healthcare and QFC. The city permitting process is underway, Bayside manager-director Gary Keister said.

Steele, at the front table Saturday, answered questions about how the village will operate. Residents will pay rent at 20 percent of their incomes. No alcohol or other drugs will be allowed, and if residents violate that rule, they will be asked to leave.

During renewable 90-day stays, they must help maintain the village and participate in community governance.

Bayside Housing will help residents find jobs, longer-term housing and other resources.

Bayside has a waiting list of 68 people for its transitional housing units, Keister said last week.

Thomas said he can foresee the construction of more transitional housing, fueled by volunteers and donations. Information about the first two villages can be found at community-build.org, where there’s a link to a documentary film about a large tiny-house community in Austin, Texas. The movie, “Community First! A Home for the Homeless,” is available for streaming through Aug. 9; admission is a $10 donation.

Thomson, who for a time lived in her van, hopes for a day when “we can remove the stigma and just house people.”

Standing beside her, fellow Community Build Project supporter Jim Quinn said he’s impressed with the tiny-village concept made real.

“It’s a small step,” he said, “but it’s a start.”

_______

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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