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Kansas City Delays Its Decision On Buying 'Tiny Homes' As Temporary Help For Homelessness

070121_cm_TinyHouse
Courtesy photo
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City of Kansas City
Tiny houses like the one on display in Bartle Hall in April are being considered as one way to temporarily help people in Kansas City who don't have housing.

The homes wouldn't have plumbing and the temporary residents would share bathroom space, but neighborhoods are leary of a set-up coming nearby.

The Kansas City Council delayed a decision Thursday on whether to create a “tiny house” village for about 200 people until they can find permanent housing.

The proposal to spend $1.7 million in tax dollars for about 95 pallet homes got sent back to a committee for more discussion rather than a full-council vote on Thursday.

That means no action yet on what have become highly contentious talks in Kansas City about how to deal with the city’s homelessness problems.

The idea for a campus of tiny homes surfaced in April as another step to serve several hundred people who have recently been sheltered in hotel rooms. Those hotel stays are expected to end in mid-July.

City Manager Brian Platt cautioned Thursday that the city doesn’t have other good options for many of those families once the hotel contract ends.

“People are going to end up on the streets,” he said, adding that not enough other shelter beds exist to fulfill the need.

Council members have been inundated with calls and emails about the proposal, many from residents who didn’t want the community near their neighborhoods.

Councilwoman Teresa Loar questioned why Kansas City is pursuing the emergency shelter idea, when non-profit shelter providers already exist.

“I’m not sure this is something we want to get into,” she said.

Mayor Quinton Lucas said that he was interested in the concept, but that the council needs a consensus on how to proceed.

“Do we want to be in this business,” he asked the other council members, “or not?”

The tiny homes are meant to be a bridge to more permanent housing, said Assistant City Manager Kimiko Gilmore.

“This is only to get a person out of a tent, out from under a bridge into something that is more structured, where they have a safe environment with wraparound services,” she told council members in June.

They are 64-square-foot units for two people have heat, air-conditioning, windows and locks. There share communal bathrooms, showers, laundry facilities and meals are brought in. Case managers and security are provided, along with medical and mental health services, job counseling, transportation, and life skills training.

The exact location for the shelter community, called Verge, has not yet been identified. One possibility, Gilmore said, is a vacant city lot a few blocks east of City Hall on 12th Street. It’s envisioned for the future East Village mixed-use development but is not currently in use.

The property does not border a residential neighborhood. Some residents of Columbus Park and other Northeast area neighborhoods have vehemently opposed this type of homeless shelter community near their homes.

The pallet home villages are proliferating as short-term emergency housing in about 50 communities, including in California, Oregon and Washington. They are seen as an affordable, temporary solution.

But Councilwoman Heather Hall noted that Missouri is not the West Coast. She questioned the health and safety of pallet homes with no plumbing.

“I am very uncomfortable when people are living in a building without running water,” Hall said Thursday.

Kansas City would be the first Midwestern city with pallet homes, but Gilmore said Kansas City, Kansas, and Raytown have expressed interest.

The Verge proposal gained traction in Kansas City after tent camps sprang up last winter in front of City Hall and near Westport. In April, the Council directed the city manager to provide hotel and other livable spaces for unhoused persons as a temporary solution.

The city began housing nearly 400 people in 12 Kansas City hotels for 90 days. On June 24, the Council approved a plan to fund the hotels through mid-July, capping the three-month hotel cost at about $4 million, paid for with city and federal stimulus dollars.

Some families served in the hotels have found permanent housing. But most have not, and it’s unclear where they may end up. That’s why city officials were hoping to get the tiny house village built and serving up to 200 people this summer.

While it debates the pallet homes, Kansas City is also exploring longer-term solutions for those experiencing homelessness. Among the approaches:

  • Housing Trust Fund. The Council plans to provide $12.5 million in stimulus money to jump-start an affordable housing trust fund and is seeking feedback on the best ways to spend that money.
  • $1 houses. The city is seeking proposals to rehabilitate Land Bank houses and also is partnering with various neighborhoods to build more single-family homes on vacant lots.
  • Renovating old schools and hotels. One possibility is the Adams Mark Hotel near the stadiums.

“We are looking at converting unused hotels and schools into permanent housing,” Platt told the Council on June 24. “We’ve been approached by multiple hotel owners and other property owners who have unused or underutilized facilities that we could convert into housing and at minimal cost of conversion.”

Lynn Horsley is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter @LynnHorsley.

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