Modesto commits $3M for tiny homes for homeless. What are the city’s next steps?

The Modesto City Council has committed spending $3 million for tiny homes for people who are homeless, but the first shelters are at least a few months away from opening.

The project is contingent upon the city finding partners to provide land for the homes, case management the people who live in them, property managers to manage the sites and companies that provide this housing.

Community and Economic Development Director Jessica Hill told council members at their Tuesday meeting that city officials expect to bring potential sites for the tiny homes to them for approval by late January or early February. The city then would connect the owners of these sites with case management providers and property managers who have experience with these types of projects.

The $3 million covers the cost of the tiny homes and associated improvements, including temporary buildings for bathrooms, showers and offices, connecting the structures to utilities and site preparation work.

A city report estimates that each tiny home of 60 to 120 square feet will cost $75,000.

That breaks out to $17,000 for a home, $30,000 for site preparation and improvements, $8,000 for utilities, $8,000 for bathrooms, showers and offices, as well as $12,000 for soft costs, according to a PowerPoint presentation at Tuesday’s council meeting.

Hill emphasized that $75,000 is an estimate and that actual costs will vary based on the characteristics of each potential site. The sites could be vacant lots, churches and commercial property. But at an estimated cost of $75,000 per tiny home, the $3 million would provide 40 homes.

Calls for safe camping

The $3 million does not include the costs for case management, property management and other services. The city would work with service providers to line up funding from the state and federal governments and Stanislaus County.

The project comes as homelessness remains a crisis in California, including in Modesto, and with some members of the public imploring the city to establish safe camping sites for homeless people as an alternative to them sleeping in city parks, in alleys behind homes and at businesses.

Council members rejected that at an Oct. 20 meeting, with members voting 4-3 against a motion to have staff research the proposal and return for possible final approval.

Mayor Sue Zwahlen and council members Rosa Escutia-Braaton, Jeremiah Williams and David Wright voted against the motion. It had the support of Eric Alvarez, Nick Bavaro and Chris Ricci, who jointly crafted the plan over several months.

This year’s count of homeless people throughout Stanislaus County tallied 2,091 men, women and children, including 1,642 in Modesto. Some 711 of Modesto’s homeless residents were unsheltered as of the count, which is conducted in late January over a 24-hour period.

But these annual tallies — called point-in-time counts and required by the federal government for jurisdictions that receive federal homeless funding — are snapshots of homelessness and not definitive.

Modesto resident Diane Kroeze applauded the city at Tuesday’s council meeting for its efforts to provide housing but said the city needs to start safe camping sites now to help the homeless people living outdoors.

She said homeless people are living in the cold and many are sick, elderly and disabled and they are “waiting and waiting. ... The timing (of tiny homes) is not humane.”

Modesto officials praised

Modesto resident Derek Castle, who has been an advocate for safe camping, said he was “very happy with what has been proposed by city staff” and singled out Hill and other Community and Economic Development officials as well as City Manager Joe Lopez for praise.

“This is going to be really helping,” he said, though he added that the pace is not as quick as he would like. He also said the city needs to do something to help the unsheltered during the winter.

The tiny homes could be at multiple sites. City officials would vet each proposal before bringing it to the City Council for approval. Modesto also could allocate more money for the tiny homes if the number of viable projects exceeds the $3 million.

Councilman Ricci said at Tuesday’s meeting that he wished the tiny homes would happen sooner and said while they are not enough to address homelessness they are step in the right direction.

“We are dealing with homelessness, which is really hard,” he said after the meeting. “We have a diverse group of opinions on how homelessness should be dealt with. But I’m really proud of how the council has come together to make things better.”