Sonoma County tiny home village for homeless veterans expected to open next month
Moving into a home of his own will mark the start of a new chapter for U.S. Navy veteran Jeffrey Lawrence.
The 48-year-old Cloverdale native said he became homeless in 2012 after a divorce and a struggle with substance abuse. He’s now living in the Hearn House, a transitional housing facility for veterans, and has been sober for eight months.
But after the holidays, he will be moving into his own home, part of a village of tiny houses built for veterans on Sonoma County-owned land in north Santa Rosa.
“I won’t just be surviving anymore — it’s about living,” said Lawrence, who plans to serve as a paid peer counselor for other veterans.
The 250-square-foot homes, which were developed by Community Housing Sonoma County on a previously vacant parcel on Russell Avenue, will be move-in ready by Jan. 15, said Paula Cook, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Local leaders and a large group of supporters gathered Friday for the dedication of the newly christened John Zane-Michael Wolff Veterans Village, which will house 14 homeless veterans. The village is named in honor of Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane’s late father, a World War II veteran, and the contractor for the project, an Iraq War veteran.
The energy-efficient development is located on a leased 30,000-square-foot piece of the county’s large administrative campus. It features furnished units that are fully accessible to people with disabilities, as well as a garden, common spaces and on-site peer counselors.
Officials hope the project could serve as a model for housing the homeless veteran population, which topped 200 in the county’s annual census.
“This is a new concept, and yet we’ve all been talking about it for a long time,” said Zane, a longtime advocate of the project who represents the area where the village is located. “It’s certainly taken a lot of faith, and I was often reminded of my dad’s Semper Fi faithfulness.”
Supervisors first discussed the idea in 2015 and chose Community Housing Sonoma County as the developer in June 2017. Supervisors approved a three-year lease and a $1.8 million loan for the project, which was delayed after a change in location and increased costs after last October’s fires, Cook said.
The price tag rose $700,000 amid higher costs for materials and services, and the nonprofit is still seeking $200,000 to close the gap, Cook said.
She lauded the myriad donations and volunteer efforts from a wide swath of the community, including Wolff, who has waived costs and helped secure labor and material contributions.
“I’m exceedingly proud of the Herculean effort it has taken to make this village — no matter how short the timeline, or how expensive the concrete or how bad the weather,” she said.
The village, situated within the city limits, was the first multifamily development to undergo a streamlined process for temporary housing approved earlier this year, said David Guhin, Santa Rosa’s planning and economic development director. The structures could be relocated and re-imagined as single-family homes on a new site after two years.
The new residents will use housing vouchers issued through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and will pay 30 percent of their income toward rent. Each resident will be assigned a licensed social worker for ongoing support.
The project provides much-needed resources at a time when about 40 veterans have housing vouchers but can’t find a place to live in the area because of a lack of affordable housing, officials said.
For Wolff, who served for 14 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, the project is a labor of love.
“It gives veterans something to be proud of,” he said. “In a group home environment, which is usually what brings them off the street, you don’t usually have a place to call your own. This is a wonderful way to give them a piece of their pride back.”
Community Housing Sonoma County also completed the six-apartment Benton Veterans Village this year, and will wrap up a 14-bed veterans home in Sebastopol in April, Cook said.