Tiny houses are coming to Barron County.
That’s according to Lori Bowman, executive director of Benjamin’s House emergency shelter in Rice Lake.
The houses won’t solve the County’s housing shortage issues, she said, but they will help.
Results of Barron County’s housing study have determined the County needs hundreds more rental units to provide residents a healthy rental market into 2030.
At this point, Bowman said the tiny homes are in the concept phase and volunteers are being recruited to lay out a plan.
The homes would be used as an extension of Benjamin’s House’s services, and Bowman would like to eventually see them in communities besides Rice Lake, including Barron, Chetek, Cumberland and Turtle Lake.
Bowman said the housing plan would be modeled after Hope Village in Chippewa County.
Don’t look for Hope Village on a map, it’s a coalition of 17 churches and local agencies that operate six tiny homes outside of four churches.
Pastor Mike Cohoon spoke during the Poverty Coalition’s Aug. 7 meeting at WITC-Rice Lake, and said that since the first guest was housed in August 2016, 100 people have stayed 2,400 nights in Hope Village, equating to $168,000 in Chippewa County hotel stays.
Cohoon is a pastor at Landmark Christian Church, which has two tiny houses tucked away on its property.
The homes are 8 feet by 12 feet and constructed on trailers to avoid zoning restrictions.
The outsides are painted white and olive, and boot mats and chairs are on the step-up porches.
Indoor amenities include a bed, air conditioner, heat, microwave, fridge, writing area, shelving, coffee maker and a small bathroom with a chemical toilet.
Showers are provided at the YMCA.
Building a tiny home requires a lot of donated building materials and about 2,650 volunteer hours, Cohoon said.
He estimated construction costs at $5,000 and a larger 8-foot by 24-foot home at $8,000.
Hope Village’s goal is for guests to be set in community services and finances before they move out.
Guests don’t pay rent, and the electricity is paid for by the church.
They sign a 7-day, extendable contract. The longest guest stay was 8 months—as long as progress towards independence is being made, guests are welcome.
Guests are paired with mentors and a professional from the Career Development Center to create a secure living plan encompassing income, housing and health.
Hope Village also reaches out to its neighbors.
Cohoon stressed the importance of working with and meeting face-to-face with the community before building.
Back in 2013, when the neighborhood received flyers about the tiny home construction, homeowners complained about drug addicts, sex offenders and worried property values would go down—despite the internet sub-station, concrete production facility, storage lockers and pornography store all within a 1/2 mile radius.
Through a series of meetings between neighbors, the church and city officials, an understanding was reached, and Cohoon said the homes’ track record has proved an asset.
There have been no calls to the police to any of Hope Village’s homes, he said, and guests are vetted by the coalition and the local police chief.
His best advice to those who want to build on the tiny home concept is, “Just keep going.”
The occupant of the white-sided Hope #2 has just moved out. Someone will move in within a week.
A note on the counter of the home describes her cleaning process—Cohoon said every guest has cleaned before departing—and ends, “Thanks again for everything. I love you all & God Bless.”