Pitching In: Building Tiny Homes


Image: Sound Foundations

I spent today, as I did last Tuesday, building Tiny Homes in a warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo industrial area.

Sound Foundations NW is part of Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). At Sound Foundations we build tiny homes that become part of one of a LIHI “Tiny House Village” somewhere in Seattle. These villages offer the formerly homeless, those who had been living in tents or sleeping on mats at shelters, a small home of their own.

I’m here to testify that they are well-built. Yes, they are small (96 sq. ft.), but they offer a roof over your head, a space that is warm, dry and well-insulated, and a lock on the door. For a lot of folks this is a very big step up.

My friend, Jim Gore, shared that he had been volunteering at Sound Foundations. I looked into it and joined him. I would never be accused of being “handy.” So there’s a healthy learning curve, which is actually great. Seeing what goes into building a building and making a house has been interesting and fun.

Besides, my other main volunteer gig, as a naturalist and program guide at Seattle’s Discovery Park, has been on-hold with COVID. So the experience with Sound Foundations is welcome new engagement

These tiny house villages are a small dent in what continues to be a very vexing problem in Seattle, and many other American cities.

Our friend, former Interim Mayor and longtime City Council member, Tim Burgess, has been a key mover in a new effort, “Compassion Seattle.” CS takes a carrot and stick approach. The carrot is a municipal commitment to a lot more low-cost housing, like tiny house villages, as well as the services residents need. The stick is that with enough beds or homes for those who need them, camping in public spaces — in parks, on sidewalks or on public easements and right of ways — would no longer be allowed.

I support that approach. I don’t think it’s good for anyone to have public spaces, parks or streets overrun with tent encampments. But there does need to be an alternative offered to those living in such encampments; one that is safer, more sanitary and with support services for those on the road to recovery. Whether the “Compassion Seattle” program, and its proposed amendment to the City Charter, is the right solution remains to be seen.

Another small, but significant note in relation to all this was the celebration last Saturday of the 20th anniversary of the Plymouth House of Healing, which subsequently grew to become “Plymouth Healing Communities.”

This is a ministry that came into being during my years as Senior Minister at Plymouth Church, and of which we are very proud. Many factors came together in the late 90’s to birth the Plymouth House of Healing. Among them: an encounter with mental illness in our family, similar experiences for other families in the church, Craig Rennenbohm’s Plymouth-based “Mental Health Chaplaincy” on the streets of Seattle, and the know-how and resolve of Plymouth folks in relation to housing development.

The House of Healing, that resulted, is a residential, spiritual community serving those coming out of psychiatric treatment at Harborview Hospital. These are folks who would go back on the streets were it not for the House of Healing and other similar residences in the larger “Plymouth Healing Communities” ministry.

I have spoken of this ministry many times in many places, as it seemed to me one that other churches could replicate. How many have, I do not know. There’s still time. And there’s certainly still the need.

The larger backdrop to all this is the incredible rise in the cost of housing almost everywhere. And that is part of a yet larger phenomenon, the wide gap  in the distribution of wealth in the U.S.

But maybe there are some signs of hope on that front now. Writing in the Wall St. Journal this week, Rahm Emmanuel framed the way Joe Biden has flipped a long-time (Republican) script.

“Richard Nixon understood how fiscal policy overlapped cultural grievance. His Southern strategy centered largely on the dog whistle that Democrats wanted to tax ‘you’ and give money to ‘them.’ Now Mr. Biden . . . has flipped the script: He’s suggesting that he wants to tax a very different ‘them’ and give it to ‘you.’”

I still like the idea, not sure where it came from, of “living simply that others may simply live.”

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinsonhttps://www.anthonybrobinson.com/
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. This solution is at least doable, rather than renting hotel rooms etc. Applaud the work “Plymouth” has done in Seattle for a long time – we need to house our mentally ill neighbors.

    We also need to reinvigorate personal accountability by having qualifications to receive the benefits laid out by the Biden plans so we do not have the same outcome as we did with LBJ’s societal programs. Give those in need a hand up – but do not make them reliant on that hand.

  2. Lovely ideas & thx but a few facts would be useful.

    – I assume they don’t have any wiring or plumbing?
    – Are they designed to be easily moved? Forklift?
    – What sort of sites currently exist?
    – How much do they cost if done w/o volunteer labor?

    The siting seems to me to be the obvious question. (There are plenty of people who would voluntarily live in a dwelling that size even if they weren’t homeless). Where can you put them under the current zoning?

    Tell us more please about the program


    And I have another remark. Why do you think there’s a connection between income inequality and the growing value of single-family houses? I don’t see the connection. Unless you’re saying that there’s growing prosperity and there’s more middle class people who can afford a house… Which sounds like a good problem….Maybe still a problem but certainly the idea of having too many middle class people chasing too a few houses sounds pretty good because frankly it’s pretty easy to build more housing.



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