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Bay Area Churches Build Tiny Homes for Homeless Neighbors

Giving new meaning to the phrase “love thy neighbour,” Bay Area churches are turning their parking lots, backyards and other unused land into tiny homes for homeless members of their communities. And a local nonprofit is on a mission to help.

Firm Foundation Community Housing, co-founded by a Presbyterian pastor, guides churches — and some secular landowners — through the daunting process of designing a small community of homes, obtaining city permits, applying for funding, and search for a contractor. So far, the organization has helped open tiny residential villages on parking lots and additional church-owned land in Livermore and Castro Valley, and on an unincorporated Alameda County medical campus in San Leandro. in society. Fourteen more projects are underway in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, and San Joaquin counties, and the Firm Foundation hopes to expand its reach even further, potentially to the Peninsula and South Bay.

Tiny houses seem to be the wave of the future in homeless housing, and cities from Oakland to San Jose are embracing them as safer, more dignified alternatives to dorm-style shelters. New state legislation has helped by cutting red tape and making it easier to build villages of these studio-sized tiny homes, which, when it comes to Firm Foundation projects, include bathrooms and small kitchens. But finding the space available to build them is a challenge. Experts say faith-based organizations — which often own large properties they’ve owned for decades and no longer fully need — could be part of the solution.

For Taryn Sandulyak, who co-founded Firm Foundation with Pastor Jake Medcalf of the First Presbyterian Church of Hayward, building housing for the homeless is a logical move for any religious organization.

CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA - June 03: Taryn Sandulyak, co-founder of Firm Foundation Community Housing, poses for a portrait in front of tiny homes in the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church of Hayward on June 3, 2022, in Castro Valley, California (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
CASTRO VALLEY, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 03: Taryn Sandulyak, co-founder of Firm Foundation Community Housing, poses for a portrait in front of tiny homes in the parking lot of First Presbyterian Church of Hayward on June 3, 2022, in Castro Valley, California ( Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)

“Caring for your community is what churches are really called to do,” she said. “This is what we are all called to do. Take care of our fellow human beings. »

Sandulyak and Medcalf started Firm Foundation in 2017 to build six tiny houses as transitional housing for the homeless over 12 parking spaces at their church on Grove Way in Castro Valley. It took the nonprofit two years to get the necessary permits — no existing rules allowed clusters of small homes, so county officials had to change their master plan and zoning rules.

But once the permits were obtained, construction took less than two months. They opened the Tiny Houses in 2020. So far, 13 residents have gone through the program and moved on to more permanent or supportive housing.

After this site opened, Sandulyak and Medcalf reached out to other faith-based organizations to see if they could help guide someone else through the process. They were inundated with interest.

“Within just a few months, we were getting calls from way more people than expected,” Sandulyak said with a laugh as he recalled how quickly business had boomed.

One of the Firm Foundation’s current projects is a small six-unit village in the parking lot of Grace Presbyterian Church in Walnut Creek. Membership has dwindled since the church bought its large property in 1958, and its congregation has aged, meaning fewer people come to worship. The 130-member congregation no longer needs all of its parking lot, Reverend Mark Burnham said.

“We don’t have expertise in housing or property management, and that’s not something we as a congregation can take on,” he said. “But by having these partners who can do that, our contribution can be that space, which is very valuable and that we weren’t using.”

Nonprofit Hope Solutions will manage the site and ensure residents have access to all the services they need.

Sandulyak hopes to begin construction this summer and finish in late fall or early winter. Each unit will be 252 square feet in size and will have its own bathroom and small kitchen.

A 2020 report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation found that about 38,800 acres of religious land in California — about the size of the city of Stockton — has the potential to be turned into housing. But churches face “significant challenges” in developing houses, including limited financing options, regulatory hurdles and limited knowledge of real estate, the report said.

This is where Firm Foundation comes in. The agency walks religious leaders through the process, even doing the goofy and grueling research of figuring out which bills can speed up the permitting process for a particular project. Laws such as Senate Bill 9, which allows developers to subdivide small lots, SB 35, which streamlines approvals for certain projects, and Assembly Bill 2162, which expedites certain affordable housing is all part of the puzzle, Sandulyak said.

In payment for its services, Firm Foundation charges between 8% and 12% of the total cost of a project.

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Post expires at 5:49pm on Monday June 27th, 2022