In an Australian first, a tiny home project has been approved for disadvantaged and the homeless in NSW. CEO and Co-Founder of The Tiny Homes Foundation, David Wooldridge joins me to discuss the initiative.
Kevin: In an Australian first, a Tiny Homes Project has been approved for disadvantaged and homeless people in New South Wales. The CEO and co-founder of the Tiny Homes Foundation, David Wooldridge, joins me.
David, good morning. Thanks for your time.
David: Good morning, Kevin.
Kevin: It’s a pretty exciting project, I guess, on many levels. Tell us why it’s such an important undertaking.
David: It’s important because of the scale of homelessness that’s in Australia at the moment. By all reports, there are over 100,000 people homeless at any given point in time in Australia. Given the resources and the wealth and the capacity and the lifestyle that most of us enjoy, it’s just a problem that shouldn’t exist.
Kevin: Tell us about the project itself. How is it being formed, and how many people will you be able to help?
David: Initially, we’re only going to be able to help four, so it’s tiny not only in size of the dwellings but in terms of numbers that we can help. But it’s really just a case of one step at a time.
The project is sited in Gosford on the Central Coast, which is an hour north of Sydney, and it’s next to a pretty large hospital, about 500 meters away from the main railway station and commercial center there.
It’s on a 500 square meter rough sized block of land, and we’re going to put 14-square-meter homes there that’ll be self-contained in terms of having their own kitchen, their own bathroom, their own sleeping and living area, a little outside deck, their own little garden and yard space, but they’ll have a shared laundry and a shared communications, TV, Internet room, and some community veggie gardens.
Kevin: Are you providing this to them free of charge?
David: No. These will be provided through state government-registered housing providers. They’ll actually sub-license the homes from us, and then they’ll actually source and put tenants in there and charge them according to the scale of how they set rents.
Kevin: And the land itself, I think you said 500 square meters of land. Is that right?
David: It’s between 500 and 600 square meters.
Kevin: Are you the owner of the land?
David: No. Council has given us use of the land for $1 for a couple of years to just test out this model.
Kevin: So you’re actually putting the homes on the site. Is that your role in it?
David: We’re building the homes in conjunction with TAFE Outreach and a skills generator who are a registered training provider and do work for the dole programs. We’re really linking a Housing First strategy together with training, and hopefully as this thing scales up, we’ll put together social venture businesses that can create real, sustainable, long-term employment opportunities for many of the residents.
Kevin: We’ve done a number of stories on Tiny houses, most of them focusing on sustainability and affordability of the homes themselves. Are these things a top priority in this project also?
David: Well, yes and no. Obviously, the most important thing is to alleviate homelessness. The benefit of Tiny is that if something costs you less than presumably for whatever resources and funding you have available, you can build more of them. That’s one aspect of it.
But the purpose is not to do them for the cheapest possible cost, but because of the collaboration that we have with all of the different partnering organizations and the support’s been overwhelmingly favorable. We have a lot of pro bono free/subsidized support for everything from building materials right through labor and the internal shipment of the Tiny homes themselves.
Kevin: It’s a great exercise, David. It sounds to me as if you’re doing this to help people get back on their feet. Are these Tiny houses a bit of a hand up for these people? How long will they stay in them?
David: That’s a really good question, Kevin. They’ll stay in them as long as they need to stay in them. Our view is that we would hope that they’re transitional and that as people do get their lives sorted out and work through whatever issues have been predominant in leading them into homelessness in the first place, that they’ll be able to use these as a stepping stone and then move on to whatever other form of housing works for where they want to head in life.
One of the things we’re most excited about is that – and again this is a bit of an Australian first in many respects – is that we’re going to attach an equity participation scheme to these. The old adage is that rent money is dead money, so what we want to do is we want to say, “Okay, whatever the rental we receive from the housing provider for these Tiny homes, whatever is not used in the actual repayment on an interest-free basis of the cost, which is circa $30,000 per home, or for the ongoing maintenance of the property itself, then that money would be set aside and be counted as if it were equity towards the tenants.”
Then if they need to move on and pay a rental bond or buy some white goods as they move into another form of housing accommodation down the track, then they can come and apply for that money to be released for their benefit. I think that’s a pretty revolutionary concept.
Kevin: Fantastic. It’s clear to me in all of these things that you need council support. We spoke to the Mayor of Byron Bay a few weeks ago. He’s considering a similar plan for his local community. Are you looking for other councils around Australia to adopt these types of projects?
David: Absolutely, we will be. We’re not trying to set up the next biggest charity and solve homelessness all by ourselves. I think it’s too big a problem. Our solution is part of it and not the only solution. There are many other great ideas and concepts out there. And it doesn’t necessarily have to come through us. That’s why we’re making everything that we’re doing available as an open-source model.
So all of our plans, our learnings, our documents, etc., over time, we’ll release all of those so that other people who have the same capacity to bring into play all of their collaborative partners – including councils – that they can actually replicate this anywhere in Australia or indeed the world.
Kevin: All power to you, mate. Well done, and it’s a privilege talking to you. I really appreciate you giving us your time this morning.
I’ve been talking to the CEO and co-founder of Tiny Homes Foundation, David Wooldridge.
David, thank you so much for your time.
David: No problem. Thank you, Kevin.