Switching gears

With annual competition canceled, Chico State’s Tiny House Club sets sights on homeless village

Claudia Manni, president of the Tiny House Club at Chico State, is hoping the house will end up in Simplicity Village, a neighborhood of tiny houses proposed by Chico Housing Action Team.

Claudia Manni, president of the Tiny House Club at Chico State, is hoping the house will end up in Simplicity Village, a neighborhood of tiny houses proposed by Chico Housing Action Team.

Photo by Kevin Fuller

When Claudia Manni, president of the Tiny House Club at Chico State, learned this year’s Tiny House Competition held by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) was canceled, she wasn’t sure what the group would do. The third-year political science/history double major had been involved with the club since she was a freshman and was already in the midst of planning this year’s build, which was a function of the competition.

“We thought ‘OK, well, now our club is dissolved,’” Manni said. “No one is going to support us if we don’t have a purpose.”

Enter the Chico Housing Action Team (CHAT). The group got wind that the competition wasn’t going to happen and Charles Withuhn, a local homeless advocate involved with the group, approached the Tiny House Club about refocusing its build on Simplicity Village, a project led by CHAT aimed at creating a tiny house community to provide affordable housing for the local homeless population.

“Yeah, we are totally on board,” Manni said, emphasizing her relief about keeping the club alive. “We think Simplicity Village will be a good idea to help homelessness in Chico and will allow for more shelters for homeless people.”

The tiny house concept has shifted from a design trend that filled Pinterest boards to a viable living option due to the cost to build and the low environmental impact associated with the homes, which use less energy and resources than a standard house or apartment. Cities such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle have created tiny house villages as a way to combat the housing crisis that’s hit cities all over the country.

“Right now we are in the grips of the biggest, most dramatic, urgent human crisis of my lifetime,” Withuhn said. “I’ve been in Chico since [1972], and I’ve never seen so many homeless people as we have now. Let’s get together as a community and offer tiny homes for homeless people.”

SMUD had decided the competition was too expensive, so the club is now working with CHAT to help procure resources.

Payless Building Supply donated a large amount of lumber for the project. Additionally, CHAT donated the trailer the house is being built on. The club also just got nine windows donated from JWG Windows and Doors out of San Diego. The owner, Jason Gage, a Chico State alum, wanted to be a part of the project. Additionally, the club has raised nearly $5,000 through a GoFundMe campaign for future construction costs. Manni said the group hopes to spend no more than $15,000 on the entire project.

The Tiny House Club is also going through the application process for A.S. Sustainability’s grant program, which offers up to $50,000 a semester for student-driven sustainability projects, such as a solar-power charging station for electronic devices on campus and last year’s tiny house build by the club. That house is being used in 14 Forward in Marysville, a temporary homeless community.

There are about 15 students lending hands to this semester’s construction project, including those from the obvious programs such as construction management and civil engineering, but also programs such as sociology.

“People are really into it and excited about it,” Manni said. “Not a lot of people can say that when they were in college, they built a tiny house.”

The students had expected to finish construction by December. The project has taken longer than anticipated due to the change in plans, Manni said, and the group now hopes to wrap it up come March 2018.

This year’s project is unique in the sense that the building will detach from the trailer it’s built on.

The trailer holding the tiny house is 5-feet-6-inches wide and 16 feet long. The tiny house will be 8 feet wide and 18 feet long, when the project is finished.

“The purpose is to showcase the house and then eventually make it as part of the village,” Manni said.

The Tiny House Club may need to call another audible once construction is completed, pending the outcome of Simplicity Village. Current zoning laws do not allow for tiny houses within city limits, meaning a zoning modification would need to be made.

Withuhn and Manni hope to pack the Nov. 7 City Council meeting with folks who support tiny house villages such as Simplicity Village, in hopes of getting the council to take up the issue. Manni said she wasn’t sure what would happen with this year’s tiny house if the Simplicity Village project is not able to move forward.

“This meeting is really important,” she said.