Interview by Sarah Harvey | Photos by Giles Clasen
Marcus Hyde and Kristen Brunelli began building their tiny home last March. What started out as a personal project for Hyde and Brunelli is gaining momentum and turning into a movement. Over the past year, a diverse group of organizations and individuals ranging from Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock to Architecture for Humanity have taken an interest in the idea of tiny homes as a solution to the shortage of affordable housing in the Denver area.
DV: How many tiny homes are you working on now?
MH: Two, with plans for a third.
DV: How many volunteers do you currently have working on the tiny homes project?
MH: The number of volunteers ranges significantly week to week and even hour to hour as people are busy and some folks only have like two hours to spare. I’m guessing over 50 people have shown up at different times—some of them master carpenters and plumbers and some of them master organizers and trash picker-uppers, and then there’s people like me who spend most of the time eating pizza.
DV: Where are most of your materials coming from?
MH: People donate random stuff and we try to put it to good use. I still occasionally dumpster [dive for] materials, and also Bud’s Warehouse has agreed to give us a 50 percent discount. Bud’s is great as they are job program for low-income/formerly homeless folks and they use recycled materials. And then there are some things we just have to buy at Home Depot, like screws and insulation.
DV: What can you tell us about the pilot tiny home project you will propose to the city?
MH: We are looking to propose a pilot Tiny Home Village project of 10 to 25 micro houses to the city of Denver to be put on city-owned property in order to provide housing for a few of Denver’s growing homeless population. We have done numerous community forums with homeless folks to find out what kind of village model would work for people currently experiencing homelessness, because we believe homeless people are the ones to seek guidance from when planning any sort of program or initiative that is meant to serve that population. You don’t go to court without a lawyer, and you shouldn’t plan homeless programs without homeless experts. We are also seeking guidance from people who have helped plan and develop similar tiny home communities across the country—and specifically the kind folks at Opportunity Village in Eugene, Oregon. We are looking at various underutilized Denver Housing Authority owned parcels of land around the city that are close to grocery stores, bus lines, and other services, and [that] have plenty of sun to be able to grow vegetables. We are in communication with Denver Urban Gardens and Earthlinks, Inc., both of which have shown interest in helping coordinate a gardening aspect to the village.
DV: And you’ve also met with a few city council members?
MH: Councilwoman Susan Shepherd and Councilman Paul Lopez have both shown interest in doing some sort of project similar to Opportunity Village Eugene here in Denver.
DV: How did the partnership between Architecture for Humanity and the tiny houses project come about?
MH: Through mutual friends. AFH is great. They are a group of architects and students studying architecture who want to give back to the community and provide free designs and planning for people and projects that usually couldn’t afford to hire an architect and are serving a greater purpose. They “design like they give a damn.”
DV: What will Architecture for Humanity’s role in the tiny houses project be?
MH: They are architects, which means that they take the desires and goals raised by homeless folks and passionate advocates and they turn that into tangible conceptual designs that are smart, energy efficient, dignified, and beautiful—and meet the formal requirements and concerns of city planners and building codes. Currently there are some hurdles as far as tiny homes being legal in Denver, but we’re able to show that tiny homes have worked all over the country and even here in Colorado. Walsenburg legalized tiny home construction recently, and many under-the-radar tiny homes are scattered throughout the Front Range and mountains of our beautiful state.
DV: How is Backyard Bungalows involved?
MH: They have given us free plans which have been approved by the International Building Department and the Oregon Building Department. They only cost $2,500 a house and are built with volunteer labor. And they’ve been proven to work as a cost effective way to provide life-saving shelter to people who have nowhere else to go. They are the same designs used in Opportunity Village Eugene. Oh, and I think they’re quite attractive. And they are a welcome addition to the designs our friends at Architecture For Humanity have been designing.
DV: Any leads on where the tiny homes can be placed?
MH: We’re looking at a piece of land in what is currently known as District 8 (will be district 9 after the elections) nestled between Court and Washington, near the Safeway on 20th Ave. Half of it is currently underutilized as a dog park, and the other half is an un-mowed meadow that no one uses. After Little Box Car Park was turned into a Dog Park last year, I realized that there are three other dog parks where my dog has the right to run, lay down, and poop, within walking distance of the park at Washington and Court. Yet there are zero places to legally sleep if you’re homeless when the shelters are full, and there are zero public restrooms available within District 8. That means that dogs have more protected rights than homeless people do. At least they have a place to take care of their business. We feel that the city puts rich people’s dogs at a higher priority than they do their own human citizens, and so we’d like to change that by turning one of the four dog parks in District 8 into a Tiny Home Village with 10–25 homes, a shared kitchen and bathroom and a lot of raised beds for gardening. The site is thankfully not completely overshadowed by tall buildings and already has a water hookup. ■
For volunteer and donation information go to denverhomelessoutloud.org/tiny-homes