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Tiny house

Occupy Madison Inc. is hoping to build and park "tiny houses" such as this one at a property at 2046-2050 E. Johnson St. that now hosts a service station. 

A nonprofit and the city are separately pursing sites to host housing for the homeless, but each face challenges in locating the units in their favored East Side neighborhoods.

Occupy Madison Inc., which began as a political movement about wealth inequities but morphed into a voice for the homeless, hopes to locate its workshop to build “tiny houses” and park eight to 10 of them at 2046-2050 E. Johnson St., which currently hosts Sanchez Motors.

The 98-square-foot tiny houses have a roof, insulated walls, a compost toilet and sink and other features and are on wheels.

“The location is better than we imagined,” Occupy board member Brenda Konkel said. “You can build the tiny houses, park the tiny houses, and it’s a good location for volunteers.”

Ald. Larry Palm, 12th District, said it’s an appropriate site for construction but is unsure about parking houses there.

“I’m going to try and keep an open mind,” Palm said. “The first thing is to find out what residents think and then what the zoning rules are. It’s going to be tricky to make this work out in a way that would be satisfactory to everyone.”

The city’s Community Development Authority, meanwhile, is assembling a site for a housing project with 50 to 60 efficiency units and case management services for homeless residents at 707 and 709 Rethke Ave., near East Washington Avenue and Highway 30.

“There will be 50 or so people with significant barriers to housing who will have housing,” CDA Director Natalie Erdman said.

Ald. David Ahrens, 15th District, said he has “serious misgivings” about the location. The area had the city’s largest drop in property value last year and is vulnerable, he said, adding that those with life challenges are too often placed in neighborhoods near that part of East Washington Avenue, and the site is near a motel with a history of problems.

Occupy, a volunteer-driven group, began providing help to the homeless in October 2011, initially at its encampment on the vacant 800 block of East Washington Avenue and later at camps and other sites in Dane County. It has pursued better alternatives, more recently through tiny houses. The homeless earn the houses through sweat equity, currently at a workshop on the East Side. The first tiny house was completed recently.

Currently, a tiny house parked on a Madison street must be moved every day or two. The city, however, passed an ordinance allowing up to three to be parked on church or nonprofit property.

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Occupy has now secured an option to buy Sanchez Motors for $110,000 with the intent of using the building for tiny house construction and the property for parking houses, along with raised gardens. Up to 10 people could live in temporary shelter as they help build their house.

The proposal needs conditional use approvals, a zoning change and a campground permit, Konkel said. The Plan Commission would retain oversight due to the conditional use, she said.

“We want to make sure the neighborhood is very comfortable with this,” she said, adding that Occupy eventually hopes to create a small village at a different, larger site.

The Emerson East Neighborhood Association is expected to discuss Occupy’s proposal at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Bashford United Methodist Church, 329 North St. Palm has set a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, at James Reeb Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 2146 E. Johnson St.

Early last year, the city began exploring ways to provide housing for homeless adults and those at risk of homeless.

Initially, the city considered single-room occupancy housing, which has shared baths and kitchen facilities, but eventually decided on efficiency units with baths and kitchens, case management and other support services.

The city expects to contribute $4.2 million to plan and build 100 to 110 apartments in two phases with financial support from Dane County and the lion’s share of cost covered by federal affordable housing tax credits.

So far, the city has chosen Heartland Housing Inc. of Chicago to develop the housing and is in the process of selecting that firm to do property management and its affiliate, Heartland Health Outreach, to deliver services.

For phase one, the city has an option to buy a half-acre parcel at 709 Rethke Ave. for $250,000 and is in the process of obtaining an option to buy 707 Rethke Ave. for $130,000. The site makes sense because it’s on a major bus line and close to amenities and services, Erdman said.

The city and partners are still determining income qualifications, subsidies for units, and timing on the second phase, she said.

Ahrens and Palm have set a public meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hawthorne Elementary School, 3344 Concord Ave.

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