Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ALDERGROVE INDUSTRIAL PARK – A two-acre plot of city-owned land in Belle Falor Court in Aldergrove Industrial Park is being eyed as a possible spot for creation of a small, self-sustaining village, with two somewhat different plans being proposed. The City Council heard a presentation on one plan last week, with a somewhat different approach to be reviewed at a future council meeting.
The Sustainable Village
The Sustainable Village (TSV) is the brainchild of local realtor Jayme Delson. In a detailed presentation to the council, Delson and his associates laid out his meticulously incubated plan, which he called his “life’s work.”
He described the village as a low-cost, Earth-friendly, sustainable and collaborative approach to addressing homelessness in Arcata. Based on a live/work model, the TSV would include infrastructure to help give formerly homeless residents new opportunities to develop skills and create goods and services for income.
A pilot project, TSV could be replicated elsewhere to help alleviate homelessness, improve the environment and foster a culture of kindness and creativity, backers say.
A third of the 30 residents is foreseen as people who are currently homeless, another third individuals “on the edge financially” and another third those “who have a passion for the project.”
The TSV includes areas for small residences – tents at first, and later tiny houses in which residents could earn equity – plus vehicle camping and a small campground. Initially, an administrative trailer and porta-potties would be sited nearby.
An agricultural area would include a garden, greenhouse, pond, fire pit and labyrinth. A workshop would provide a facility for manufacturing by residents, who would develop crafts and “cottage industries” for income.
The goal for all the facilities is “jovial encirclement” in a safe, supportive environment.
The village would be initiated on a “shoestring” basis, with interim facilities for living and sanitation as the operation ramps up. The ag facilities would be expanded to both feed villagers and sell crops at farmers’ markets.
Delson estimates a startup budget of between $22,500 and $64,000 per year, with the 30 residents each paying $750 to $2,133 yearly during the initial “emergency” phase.
Too keep initial costs in that range, he said, utilities would be provided at first by cooperative neighbors. “In an emergency situation, there would be no difficulty in bringing in water and electricity from neighboring parcels,” Delson said. Negotiations would result in a neighbor providing a water line and electrical sub-panel for service to the village during the startup period.
As the project matures and funds become available, utilities would be installed on a permanent basis.
Operations, including insurance, water, electricity, sewage, administration and other costs, would be $60,000 per year, or $167 per month per resident. Total “infrastructure costs,” including food and operations, would cost between $82,500 and $124,000 per year, or $2,750 to $4,133 per villager.
Food needs would at first be met through local organizations such as Food Not Bombs, Food For People, CalFresh, donors and others.
Delson concluded his presentation with a request for a “contingent lease agreement.” The TSV would pay the city $1 per year for five years as the project unfolds and hits its goals. In that time, permanent utilities would be installed and facilities matured.
Councilmembers had some tough questions about TSV. Councilmember Sofia Pereira was concerned with on-site alcohol and drug use policies. Delson said he was eager to work with police to develop suitable guidelines.
As to engaging the TSV’s Aldergrove neighbors for support, Delson said, “We haven’t done anything yet.” He said support from the council would help with approaching neighbor. Pereira said communication with nearby businesses was important preliminary work, and Delson agreed.
Mayor Susan Ornelas said Delson’s “rosy” plans were missing a lot of details, and that they resembled the “romantic” visions of her sustainable agriculture students. She cautioned Delson that “the food doesn’t grow itself,” and wondered how realistic is to expect chronically homeless people to be converted into cottage industrialists.
She wondered whether Delson had spoken to the project’s neighbors about interim provision of utilities. He hadn’t, but intends to.
Community Development Director David Loya said the village was “a pretty radical idea” that would require rezoning, new regulations and a public process involving the Planning Commission.
AHHA Tiny Home Village
A group called Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives (AHHA) also has plans for the same two-acre site.
AHHA’s concept would also start with camping, then give way to a tiny house village of 30 people, one intended to house chronically homeless persons. The 8-by-10 foot homes wouldn’t include a kitchen or even a bathroom – those facilities would be centrally located as in a campground. A meeting facility and community garden would also be available to residents.
The AHHA concept is based on Eugene, Oregon’s Project Opportunity Village. On-site staffing would help guide residents as they transition to becoming housed, and the responsibilities that come with it.
AHHA estimates costs at $100,000 per year. Site control for three to five years would allow for capital development and ensure success for the stabilized villagers to move out into the larger community.
Residents would immediately gain benefits now unavailable to them, such as a home mailing address which can be used to obtain identification, voter registration and availability of services. They’d also get counseling for employment readiness and financial management.
The empowerment, AHHA believes, would give residents “an opportunity to take ownership” and lead to a self-regulating community, according to AHHA President Nezzie Wade. “They don’t want to fail,” she said. “They become very good neighbors. It’s their home.”
Some housing standards would have to be relaxed to allow the micro-homes to be built and occupied.