The committee defends the Second Chance Tiny Homes project in New London
New London ― Formed less than a year ago, a four-person committee is advocating for giving formerly incarcerated people a second chance, and it comes in the form of a little house.
The Second Chance Tiny House project aims to create a small community of homes in New London of 160 square foot homes likely to be self-powered and transportable to “set up a support village for people coming out of prison,” said said Katherine Brown. The number of houses depends on the size of the lot they reach.
The idea, however, is likely to face major zoning challenges.
Brown is a project committee member and employment coordinator at the Homeless Hospitality Center. She said a small home community could provide people with the support they need to not return to prison.
The members of the committee work for different agencies and social organizations and are aware of the issues faced by those released from prison, one of the most important being housing.
According to a study by the Prison Policy Institute in 2018, formerly incarcerated people are nearly 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
Oshun Vicente, committee member and director of reintegration services at OCI in New London, said almost 50 per cent of those entering reintegration services are in unstable or homeless accommodation.
Vicente is also co-chair of the Southeastern Connecticut Reentry Council made up of community members working together to provide resources for people returning to the community after incarceration. She said the council sparked the idea of small houses for people returning to the area.
“If we can’t deal with housing, we can’t deal with health, mental health and job insecurity,” she said.
Also on the project committee are Justin Good of the East Haddam Land Trust and Denise Boyd of the Reentry Council. Brown said the project is not sponsored by the organizations they work for.
Vicente said she often finds people who were previously incarcerated to live in sober houses or halfway houses and that works well for some and keeps people safe. But those with PTSD or other issues may struggle with a roommate and find it similar to cell life.
“Tiny houses aren’t for everyone, but would be a viable resource for those looking for independent living and ready to move into permanent housing,” Vicente said.
Brown said the committee hopes to be able to provide comprehensive on-site services to people residing in the small community, such as medical screenings, counseling, addiction recovery, job search assistance and training in household management and cooking skills.
“They need affordability, personal space, and support to do well,” Brown said.
Compared to renting an apartment or a room in a low-key house, Brown said renting a small house could be much more affordable. She said it takes about $30,000 to build one and she hopes to offer rent in the range of $400 to $500 a month, but that’s not set in stone.
Plus, she said the tiny houses could be “self-contained” with composting toilets and solar panels.
Brown said there are a number of small house communities across the country, such as in Colorado and New York, that are having success with the model.
“It happens to us and we can either be up front or back,” Brown said.
Brown said they are considering properties, but nothing has been offered to the city yet. She said their biggest thing right now is getting support from the community and local politicians. She said they have a website, a Facebook page and a GoFundMe page.
She said the money they raise will be used to promote the project, pay for the legal process involved and build the first tiny house.
The city’s planning and zoning office said it had not been contacted by any potential developers or advocates for such a development.
Good said there are no zoning codes for small homes in the state, calling it an innovation. Since the tiny homes are mobile and would not be hooked up to plumbing systems, Good said they are not permitted under home zoning and would be considered “a trailer” under land lot regulations. camping.
But family campgrounds allow people to live in campers for a limited season and time. He said some cities even have ordinances dating back to the 1950s that prohibit people from living in motor homes.
Currently, Good said the easiest route to allow zoning for a small home village is to request that a family campground be allowed to be used year-round.
“Because it’s innovative, there’s a lot of groundwork to be done,” Good said. “There is a 50-year lag in zoning.”
He said the committee is still looking for a site to work out the details of what they can do and then they can present it to the city council and the planning and zoning commission.
He added that the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust is interested in purchasing the land. Good said that if they were to buy it, the land trust could rent the land to them at a low price, further allowing them to offer low rents or even rent-to-own options.
Vicente said some people understand that formerly incarcerated people are no longer indebted to society and face obstacles after release from prison. But she told some that those incarcerated must spend their lives paying that debt to society. Going forward with the project, Vicente said it was smart to be aware that there were biases.
However, she said, “Across the state, there’s been a big movement to change that mindset and that’s part of it.”