Spend some time with Kim Curtis, the executive director of Goodness Village, and you cannot help but be impressed by her enthusiasm for the tiny home project on the Crosswinds Church campus in Livermore.
Curtis is about 15 months into running the 28-unit project of 160-square-foot homes on trailers that is designed as permanent housing and a community for formerly unhoused Tri-Valley residents. Curtis, who has worked in the field for 20 years, reports that it’s the longest she’s seen formerly unhoused people remain in housing. Only five people have left in 14 months and three were successful transitions.
She’s honest that they’re experimenting and building the program as they go. They experiment and evaluate constantly. They based their approach on a much larger community in Austin, Tx, but have to conform to California’s much more restrictive regulations across the board. The Austin project is entirely funded by churches and supporters so it’s free of government regulations. Goodness Village started with a $300,000 investment by retiring county Supervisor Scott Haggerty that has been supplemented by funds from the three local cities. An earlier version incorrectly stated no government money. Their goal is to develop and prove their model works.
To that end, they carefully screen each potential resident and evaluate, based on their intake testing, whether they will fit into one of the five cul-de-sacs in the village. It’s built around community. Of the 28 residents, nine are women and half are 55 or older. In a discussion with the Presbyterian retired men’s group Monday, she cited one 70-plus year-old woman who was living in the Safeway parking lot in Pleasanton. To find housing, she developed a dog-sitting business and moved from house to house to care for dogs. Previously, she had owned a business and readily admits she did not plan for her retirement.
Each resident pays a monthly program fee and all participate in the community. That may be on a handyman team or landscaping. She cited one man whose contribution is a monthly barbeque for the community. Another military veteran was voluntarily walking the perimeter of the property at night and that became his contribution. Curtis has staff on premises 24-7 and that provides a security blanket for residents.
Each resident has an individual plan based on his/her needs and goals. Some have lived on the street for so long and dumpster dived for food that they have to be taught to use the refrigerator. Many residents have been delighted with the 32-inch televisions in each home, something unavailable on the streets.
It costs about $88 a night per person, way less than the expense of incarcerating someone at Santa Rita County Jail or the $2,000-plus per day charge at the county’s mental health hospital. The Goodness Village cost will drop when additional homes are added because the staff already is in place. Curtis wrote to clarify, “The first year of opening we set our costs at $88 a night or $32,120 a year per individual for Goodness Village to offer housing and 24-hour wrap-around services. We have a monthly commitment donor program titled Club88 based on these numbers. Since then, we have enhanced our vocational program and we are now at $38,322 per year or $105 a night. Due to the success of our Club88 we have left the number the same and expect the nightly cost to return to $88 or less as we add more homes without the need to add additional support staff.”
An earlier version mis-stated the cost per night.
One key challenge is there’s no community facility for people to gather. They have an outdoor meeting space, but no enclosed place. That’s the key to expanding. Curtis says she already has enough staff and room to add another 12 homes, but needs the community building. State Sen. Steve Glazer has the non-profit set for a $5 million investment of federal funds passed through from the state, but Curtis is wary. She clarifies, I am only concerned with whether we will be required to hire prevailing wage labor to build the community center. This larger expense will reduce the available funds from the $5 million dollars that will be put towards additional homes, I, of course, want to add as many homes in this next phase as possible. I am extremely grateful for Senator Glazer and have no concerns around "strings". An earlier version of this post mis-stated her concern.
Eventual plans call for a third phase with a foot bridge over the creek that divides the back portion of Crosswinds’ property. She thinks 40 units could go there and says she’s willing to give naming rights to the bridge donor—the only facility she will do that for on the site.
She welcomes both community tours and projects to benefit the residents. There have been a few Eagle Scout projects. Visiting can be as simple as arranging to bring food for the residents on Wednesdays or Saturdays and sitting down to eat with the residents. Curtis says that has a huge impact because residents know they’ve volunteers, not paid staff, showing they care enough to engage.
It’s an open question of when they get to adding more tiny homes whether volunteers can help build the tiny homes as Habitat for Humanity does in other projects. For now, that consideration is on hold because any housing expansion must follow the community center.