Denver zoning rules now set a clear path for community groups and other organizations who want to open tiny house villages to shelter people experiencing homelessness.
On Monday night, the Denver City Council voted 11-0 to approve the zoning code amendments. Officials hope the amendments will encourage more of the communities to crop up throughout the city.
The new law allows the villages, defined as detached tiny house sleeping units with central kitchen and bathroom facilities, to be permitted for up to four years at a time in all zoning districts except open space districts.
The miniature dwellings, typically less than 400 square feet, became popular as a lifestyle trend that offered mobility with minimalist style. But they’ve gained momentum among public officials, nonprofits and advocates as a potential solution to homelessness — particularly to offer those who are seeking permanent housing a safe place to stay in the meantime.
“This proposal for me was about understanding that there was this gap, right in the middle, and that we have to put more energy into it,” said City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who sponsored the measure.
Council members Christopher Herndon and Kendra Black were absent from the vote.
The new policy clears the way for the operator of an existing tiny home community in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood to renew its push to open a second development, specifically for women.
The Beloved Community Village now has 11 tiny homes and is slated to open eight more units by the end of the year, said Cole Chandler, co-director of the Colorado Village Collaborative, which runs the village.
The collaborative will soon begin searching for site for the women’s village, which could add another 25 units. Plans for the second community stalled when the group couldn’t find a location because of the previous zoning restrictions.
“Our hope is by, by this time next year, we have 40 units up and operating,” said Chandler.
In the past, the only option for those who wished to open tiny house villages in Denver was to apply for special variance approval because the code didn’t address the developments.
Beloved Community Village had to relocate once when its initial permit expired, and the City Council voted in April to move it again from the River North neighborhood to Globeville.
The process “was filled with flaws and struggles that made it extraordinarily difficult to find other sites,” Terese Howard, a human rights activist who’s part of the collaborative, told the City Council.
“Passing this zoning is a critical step forward to streamlining the process to enable more of these villages to go up around the city of Denver, in an efficient way, in a way that can build that community connection that we’ve been talking about and — most importantly — in a way that faces the reality that housing is a basic human need,” Howard said.
Under the new rules, villages proposed for residential zoning districts will be limited to 30 units and must be located on the same lot as a church, community center, or other place of "primary civic or public use," according to city planning officials.
Those seeking to open a village will have to hold a community informational meeting before applying for a permit and notify area residents. The application wouldn't need City Council approval; instead, it would be approved administratively by planning staff, according to the planning department.
Village operators could apply for a six-month permit, renewable for another six months, or a two-year permit, renewable for two more years, depending on the water and sewer facilities on the site.
As part of an effort to review the city's group living regulations, Denver officials are considering another rule change that would allow for permanent tiny house villages, said Senior City Planner Andrew Webb. Additional amendments might also pave the way for “market-rate” tiny home communities that aren’t meant to address homelessness, Webb said.
While there’s no formal plans yet for additional villages, Denver Community Planning and Development has fielded questions from some who are interested in the idea, he said.
Five Points resident John Hayden suggested that the vacant lot at the corner of Colfax Avenue and Broadway, owned by the Regional Transportation District, could be one potential site for a tiny home village.
Transportation officials aren’t sure what they’re going to do with the lot, which recently became a focal point in the city’s bid to become home of the National Medal of Honor Museum before the announcement last week that the attraction would be built in Arlington, Texas.
“I really believe that if we have these villages in neighborhoods across the city, even in high-income neighborhoods, that it will help reduce the sense of ‘the homeless are other from us,'” Hayden said. “People need to understand that people experiencing homelessness are, in fact, their neighbors.”