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One Tiny Home For Park Village
Small unit offers a new low-cost permanent housing option
On the edge of Sebastopol and the Laguna de Santa Rosa is Park Village. As of late February, it has a new tiny home, which is 170 sq. ft. of space that includes a bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. Executive Director of West County Community Services (WCCS) Tim Miller gave a walking tour of Park Village this week and talked about the tiny house that is now connected to electricity, water and sewer.
The small white structure, 20 feet long and 8.5 feet wide, sits on a trailer bed so that it can be moved in case of flooding. It will also be tied down to protect against winds up to 50 MPH, one of the State’s requirements to qualify the home as “permanent supportive housing.” Meeting those requirements, Miller explained, will allow its new resident to use a State housing voucher to pay for rent. This first person to occupy the tiny home will be selected soon from the Coordinated Entry list of eligible homeless in the area.
Miller sees the first tiny home as a test. “We didn’t want to order 8 tiny homes and find out they didn’t work,” he said. He thinks that a tiny home might be better built and last longer than a trailer. With trailers, “maintenance and repair is a constant problem,” he said, explaining that they aren’t really designed for someone to live in them 24/7.
This tiny home was purchased for $57,000 from a builder in Riverside with $20K from the WCCS operating budget and additional money from donors, who also covered the additional costs of transporting the tiny home and setting it up. It was a slow process overall. The tiny home was ordered last July and promised for late October but it didn't arrive until late February. By the end of April, it will add one more unit for low-cost housing in the county.
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A Hybrid Housing Site
Park Village is home for 109 people, 18 of whom are minors, and managed by West County Community Services (WCCS) under contract with the City of Sebastopol.
Formerly Village Park, the site was for many years a privately owned seasonal campground and mobile home park, whose residents suffered from winter flooding and poor management. The City of Sebastopol purchased the 13-acre property in 2007 with assistance from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which funded the portion that would become a future Laguna park. By 2012, eight acres of the former summer campground were designated as Tomodachi Park. The remaining five acres were maintained as a mobile park that came to be recognized, if not actually valued, as an asset because it was the City’s only low-cost housing option.
For some residents, Park Village still is a trailer park, which it has been since the 1950’s or earlier. Some residents have lived in the park a long time; they own their trailers and pay rent on the land they occupy. More recently, several trailers that had been parked on Morris Street were relocated to available sites at Park Village. Then WCCS added eight trailers, which were donated, to provide new housing options for the homeless. WCCS also raised $600,000 to renovate the home on site, which now has two 2-bedroom units that provide housing for two families. Tina Nicolai, the resident manager, also occupies a room in the house.
Under the WCCS contract with the City of Sebastopol, the city initially paid WCCS $97,000 annually to manage the site. WCCS has been able to reduce the amount to $63,000 for 2022-2023. The reduction reflects increased payment of rents by residents who qualify for subsidized housing. In addition, the city funds a full-time homeless outreach coordinator who is Maria Rico.
Former mayor and City Council member, Una Glass, is the West County representative on the Continuum of Care board, which oversees and coordinates services for the homeless in Sonoma County. She was one of the people on the tour of Park Village. “I think Tim and his staff have done a fantastic job on a shoestring,” she said.
Staffing on Site
Pat Jones is the case manager at Park Village. She works out of a former construction trailer that WCCS brought on site. Inside the trailer are several computers that are connected to the Internet and can be used by residents.
Pat describes herself as the “been-there-done-that person” for residents. “I’ve been working with the homeless for 20 years,” she said, adding that she’d like to retire but she can’t bring herself to stop working with the people here. She helps residents connect to services that are available from the County and State. “I help them find money,” she said.
“The majority of the people here are seniors,” said Jones to group touring Park Village. “Some people come here with some employment but then they age out of the workforce.” She helps those looking for work.
Miller talked about the WCCS staff. “We have about 75 employees in the agency, full and part-time,” said Miller. “31 of them are what we call mental health peer support specialists. Six of them are in a transitions program and help with housing.” These peer specialists have had experience of mental health issues themselves. They go through an 80-hour training program to learn how to assist others. Miller said that there’s a shortage of licensed professionals and the peer specialists help to fill the gap. “So much of it is having somebody who is trained to listen,” he said. One of their roles is to help people integrate into the community, such as introducing them to the library.
WCCS has provided stability at Park Village so that it can provide low-cost or no-cost housing and additional support services for residents. “One of the key philosophies is that we want to be humane as possible, in the most cost effective way possible, so you can serve as many people,” said Miller. “One of the nice things about a place like this is that you can go into a trailer and be comfortable, dry and safe. But even then, some people eventually move on. They want an apartment instead of a trailer. It will be interesting to see if a person wants to stay in the tiny home in the long run.”