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Tiny houses for the homeless — would it work in Fargo?

Volunteers work at Quixote Village in Olympia, Wash., one of several tiny house communities built to house the homeless around the country. Local officials say such a community is a viable option for the Fargo area, though no plans are in the works. Special to the Forum

FARGO — Cities across the country have begun looking to tiny houses, often between 100 to 400 square feet in size, as a way to help solve the deep-seated problem of homelessness.

Fargo hasn't started its own tiny housing program for the homeless, though local officials and advocates say it's a viable option for this area.

Tiny houses "can provide a solution not only for those homeless, but also for those on the edge of homelessness," said Cody Schuler, executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Coalition for Homeless Persons.

The tiny house movement has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, attracting many people seeking affordability and a minimalist, eco-friendly lifestyle. Tiny houses also have come to be seen as alternative, affordable housing for homeless people.

Tiny houses for the homeless can be built together to form a community, Schuler said, with access to shared resources like laundry and waste disposal.

"I'm a huge advocate for trying it in our community," said Jill Elliott, deputy director of the Fargo Housing and Redevelopment Authority, adding that there's a niche population that can benefit from having a tiny house.

Tiny houses are more affordable than building apartments, Elliott said. A tiny house costs $30,000 to $40,000, while a single apartment unit can cost upward of $120,000, she said.

Climate could be a concern when building tiny houses in Fargo due to the harsh winters, but with settlements in northern cities like Olympia, Wash., and Detroit, Mich., weather shouldn't stop tiny houses in Fargo, Schuler said.

Quixote Village in Olympia is an example of a successful tiny house community for the homeless. Started in 2013, the village consists of 30 tiny houses — one person per house at a size of 144 square feet.

Jayce Osterberg, Quixote Village program manager, said the community is substance-free and alcohol-free, and people pay one-third of their income toward rent.

Osterberg said the village has housed 65 people in the last five years and 90 percent of those who leave go on to other permanent housing.

Fargo City Commissioner Tony Grindberg noted that tiny housing is a trend that appears to get more popular by the year, but has yet to appear in Fargo.

Grindberg, Schuler and Elliott all have one question: Where would these tiny houses or a tiny housing community be located? Schuler said placement would need to be cognizant of existing neighborhoods and businesses.

At this time, Elliott and Schuler said no projects are in the works to create tiny houses for homeless people in Fargo.

According to a 2015 study by Wilder Research, about 590 people experienced homelessness on a given day in Fargo-Moorhead. Schuler said that number can now be upward of 1,000 people every day experiencing some form of homelessness, from someone living on the street to "doubling up" with friends or relatives.

"There is no reason for anyone in the Fargo area to not have a home," Schuler said.