I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my colleagues Regan Froelich, Project Manager at Trillium Professional Services. She and her husband, Mike, participate in community project to build and donate a home for transitional housing – in their neighborhood.
What made you and husband start volunteering to build “tiny houses”?
When our children were younger, every summer our neighborhood would build the children living in our neighborhood a water slide. With many of the children transitioning to adulthood, the neighbors were looking for something else to do for the community. We knew Seattle had a large homeless problem, so we researched what we could do as a neighborhood to help. According to data from the Seattle, King County area, there were estimated to be 11,751 homeless people living on the streets or in shelters. On January 24, 2020, the numbers of unsheltered homeless individuals was 5,578, the number homeless individuals in Emergency Shelters was 4,085 and the number of homeless individuals in Transitional housing was 2,088, for a total count of 11,751 homeless people. We found the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), which is one of the largest providers of tiny house village shelters in the nation and decided to sign up to build a tiny house.
How many tiny houses have you built?
We first built one tiny house 4 years ago and currently are building another one. Our first tiny house took about three months to build. Our second tiny house that we are currently building will take us 4-5 weekends (Saturdays and Sundays; 6-8 hours a day) to complete.
How do you go about building a tiny house?
Well, we complete an application with LIHI and obtain an approval. Once approved, we purchase a Tiny House Kit from Lowes for $3,500, and we follow the directions in the kit. To help pay for the kit, we collect donations from everyone in the neighborhood. We build the house in one of the neighbor’s driveway on heavy-duty rollers (which another neighbor who works for a construction company provides). Once the tiny house is finished, we contact LIHI and they pick up the tiny house and deliver the it to the village, where they provide electricity, overhead light, and a heater. The two things we do not do are electricity and plumbing.
How is the experience of building your second tiny house different from your 1st tiny house?
I can describe it in one word “Comradery!” Since March 2020, we all became very isolated from people. Building the second tiny house gives us an overarching purpose, we were able to connect with each other again without technology; have conversations; the ability to see each other; ability to order pizza and laugh. The second Tiny House brought our community together. We were able to reconnect with each other in a way that technology (Zoom, Facetime, Facebook, etc.) cannot replicate.
Being a Project Manager, did you notice if you applied any of your Project Management skills in building the Tiny House?
Yes, definitely! There were three main components that I noticed that I applied:
1. Resource Allocation
There is a specific order that the tiny house needs to be built – by allocating small groups of people to work on different steps and then bring each step together at each phase. We make sure everyone is assigned a ‘job’ and look ahead at the plan to guarantee each step has a resource allocated. For example, while the sub-floor is being built, one group can cut and layout the wall framing materials, while others are painting the exterior siding panels, interior wall panels and the front door. The cutting and painting can be located away from the driveway building site.
This is one of the most critical pieces to our tiny house project. We communicate to the neighbors who is doing what; what steps are completed and/or pending; total funding allocated; what materials/resources are needed; what experts are needed; etc. We constantly communicate to assure everyone in our neighborhood knows what is occurring with the tiny house.
3. Understanding the terminology
I have never built a house and do not have a background in construction, so the terminology was very different. I created a glossary and wrote definitions to each unfamiliar word – this helped me use the right terminology and speak the right language.
What is something you learned about yourself during the Tiny House experience?
The experience is exhausting and challenging, but very rewarding at the same time – I cannot put in words how much you cherish having an experience like this. I would also say, with good written step-by- step instructions nothing is too challenging. You can undertake anything if there is good instruction – as the saying goes “Eat your elephant one spoonful at a time.” Finally, I realized that I am very good at hammering nails!
In partnership with the Cities of Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, and with faith communities and building trade organizations throughout the State of Washington, the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is one of the largest providers of tiny house village shelters in the nation, ensuring that people’s experience in homelessness is as safe, dignified, and brief as possible.
Tiny houses offer tremendous benefits over tents – they are safe, weatherproof, and lockable – and the communities that we help build allow residents to reclaim their dignity and get on a path to housing in a supportive village environment.
Each tiny house has electricity, overhead light, and a heater. Each tiny house village has kitchen and restroom facilities, onsite showers and laundry, a counseling office, and a welcome/security hut where donations of food, clothing, and hygiene items can be dropped off.
For additional information about the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) Tiny House program, you can visit their website at: https://lihi.org/tiny-houses/