Creating tiny homes for unhoused Angelenos: Moral, financial and aesthetic questions

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Michell Eloy

In Los Angeles County, more than 66,000 people live on the streets, in their cars, or in shelters. One idea to house people quickly is to build temporary shelters out of tiny prefab homes and shipping containers. That’s happening now in LA. 

Each home feels smartly designed and is about the size of a cabin, says Carolina Miranda, LA Times arts and architecture columnist. 

Each includes windows for air circulation and an independently controlled ventilation system. They’ve been drywalled, which helps give the sense of a regular apartment. 

“The architects really started taking a lot of time to think about how they can make it feel less like a shipping container. So choosing the tallest range of shipping containers, cutting floor to ceiling windows in them to maximize light and ventilation,” Miranda says. “Really trying to think about how do you make these spaces habitable and humane, and make them a place that people want to be in, and that will really offer shelter when somebody is coming off the street and not something that feels desperate or terrible.”

Miranda says a few different tiny house developments are springing up across LA, including a temporary one in downtown LA that can house 232 people, and a permanent one in South LA that can house about 50 residents. 

She adds each project uses both public monies, including HHH bond money, and private funds such as a $2.5 billion from the Annenberg Foundation. 

Another development in North Hollywood utilizes basic, eight feet by eight feet tiny homes. Miranda says each unit is a private space with a lock and key, and allows couples or family members to share a space if possible. Pets are also welcomed. 

“I think one of the challenges of the shelter system is that often it splits families up. Men have to go one place, women have to go another, parents and children are separated. And so the idea behind these is how can we begin to help keep people together?”

After visiting each site, Miranda says she’s heard a sense of relief from residents she’s talked to there.

“One woman I spoke with who had been living in her car, and then in a park, she told me what she appreciated was being able to have her own space with a lock and a key that felt secure. Another gentleman I spoke with, it was the same thing: feeling that there was a place he could put his belongings and his things and that nobody else would have access to that.”

Miranda says these tiny homes are a new flexible solution to navigate around LA’s strict building code system, but are only a start. 

“This is the most basic form of shelter. And while I think it's important to have a whole palette of solutions to deal with the housing crisis, and this is one of them, we certainly should not begin to think of it as a permanent one.”

Greater LA: 8 x 8 foot home for Angelenos experiencing homelessness? Each costs LA up to $130,000, reporting finds