Sonoma County’s long-awaited tiny home village for homeless veterans clears final financing hurdle
A long-awaited tiny village planned to house homeless veterans on Sonoma County-owned land in north Santa Rosa is on track to make its debut in December, according to the developer, who recently secured crucial funding approval from county leaders.
Community Housing Sonoma County will build 14 tiny homes on an unused Russell Avenue lot just south of Kaiser Permanente Medical Center on the county government’s sprawling administrative campus. Paula Cook, the nonprofit’s executive director, expects to break ground in early July and have residents move in five months later.
Her organization last week received the Board of Supervisors’ blessing to make use of an entire $1.8 million loan to develop the project, which is called Veterans Village.
“We can think outside the box and show that we can solve these complicated problems in creative and innovative ways,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who represents the area where the village will be located.
Supervisors began discussing the tiny homes idea three years ago. They authorized the project at the county government center in 2016, and since then, the proposed village has encountered several major setbacks, including a change in location and rising construction costs, Cook said.
The board already had awarded county housing funds for the project in 2016, but the money was supposed to be spread across two phases: the initial development of 12 tiny homes at the county center and the preparation of another site in southwest Santa Rosa where the village will be located long term.
Cook told supervisors Tuesday the project had been a “protracted and challenging experience,” particularly after it had to move from one site in the county government center to another. In the meantime, construction costs “skyrocketed,” she said, advocating for the full loan amount to be used for getting 14 tiny homes built at the Russell Avenue site.
Some supervisors were skeptical, wondering whether they could get more housing for homeless veterans with that amount of money. But the board ultimately voted unanimously in favor, opting to continue with a project they already invested in and seeing nothing else that could get homeless veterans housed faster.
Cook said she’s looking forward to finally getting shovels in the ground.
“This has been long and arduous,” Cook said in an interview.
“Once they’re done and people can walk through them, then they’ll really be impressed,” she said about the homes. “The fact that these are tiny, well designed on the interior, 100-percent accessible, zero-net energy and you can pick them up off the foundations and move them is pretty incredible.”
Each unit will be less than 300 square feet and fully accessible to disabled people, Cook said. The tiny homes will come with a built-in bed, dresser, desks and shelves, along with a fully accessible bathroom and a small kitchen.
After two years at the Russell Avenue lot, which totals about 34,000 square feet, the tiny homes will be moved to a larger West Hearn Avenue site where they are planned to be re-imagined into four six-bedroom homes and four two-bedroom granny units. Community Housing is still working to secure funding from the city for that part of the project, which also will require extensive community outreach, Cook said.
Some members of the board, particularly supervisors David Rabbitt and Susan Gorin, questioned at Tuesday’s meeting whether they should allow the nonprofit to use all $1.8 million to house just 14 homeless people. The money also was intended to help with the village’s relocation, which is envisioned to ultimately house 32 people.
Rabbitt stressed he supported the intent of the project but wanted the county to “maximize those dollars.” By the end of the discussion, however, he and each of his colleagues felt compelled to advance the project.
“I think we all felt a little backed into a corner,” Rabbitt said in a later interview. “A considerable amount of dollars were already expended on the project … (We) need to do due diligence and be a little more thoughtful and careful in the vetting process to not put us in a position where we’re not going to get what we had invested in going forward.”
The Sonoma County Community Development Commission already released $150,000 to the developer to cover predevelopment costs, according to Benjamin Wickham, the agency’s affordable housing director.
A number of veterans and their advocates supported the project, including Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, whose district representative read a letter of support to supervisors Tuesday.
“No veteran who served our nation in uniform should live without a roof over his or her head,” the letter from Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran, read. “I support the tiny homes project and I commend the board for your great work in this important matter.”
Approved a year ago, the nonprofit’s lease with the county includes two six-month extensions in case the village needs more time to relocate to the West Hearn Avenue site. Cook, however, hopes to be off the county campus by the end of the initial two-year term.
The presence of the tiny village won’t interfere with separate plans advanced by supervisors this week to potentially redevelop their administrative campus and make room for possibly thousands of new housing units, according to Caroline Judy, the county’s general services director.
You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or email@example.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.