Skip to main content

Tiny homes, big solutions

Special Interest Programme / Partner story

“Too much month at the end of the paycheck” – this is an American expression which describes the predicament that many low-income families face each month. Safe and affordable housing is a challenging issue in the US, in particular for people with serious mental illnesses, many of whom rely on government programmes such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to provide the financial support they need.

“People with mental illness receiving a fixed income are put in a position where they already owe more than they receive each month for housing,” says Amy Blank Wilson, co-director at the Tiny Homes Project. “For many, it means they’re homeless. And for many more, they are forced to engage in what I call a cycle for a fight for survival. This creates a stress in their lives that makes it impossible, almost, to get well, until they can find some safe and affordable housing.”

Tiny homes, or homes that are less than 500 square feet (about 46 m2), offer a possible solution. These homes cost less to build, are more affordable and offer the privacy and independence that many people desire. Once built, the rent for homes will cost approximately USD 250 a month for the residents, which is one third of the monthly income received on the SSI scheme.

“These homes are designed to optimise the wellbeing of the residents,” says Amy.

The plan is to build 15 tiny homes on a plot of land in Chatham County, North Carolina – five for veterans and ten for people with serious mental illness. As well as providing a place to live, the Tiny Homes project brings together a community, which will play a big role in providing an informal support system. “There is a lot of research that has shown that over 70 per cent of somebody’s health outcomes are based on non-medical drivers of health, like housing, food, transportation, where somebody lives and who they surround themselves with,” says Thava Mahadevan, director of operations for the UNC’s centre for excellence in community mental health. “Most people with serious mental illness are really lonely, and loneliness is lethal.”

In addition, an organic farm will provide healthy food and work for residents. “This really touches on getting back to the basis on how much food can play a role in somebody’s health,” says Thava. In addition, the 40 acres of woodland provide ample opportunity for residents to resource themselves through nature, and the team intend to bring in shelter dogs. “Bringing in man’s best friend has made a big difference with some of our clients,” says Thava.

Want to find out more? Go to our online annual report to watch the video!

Our partnership with the Tiny Homes project falls under our Special Interest Programme. This Programme reflects the Trustees’ interests in making dynamic, diverse, large, innovative and challenging grants. Special Interest grants cover a wide range of fields, including health, humanitarian relief, education and the arts. Learn more about its strategy here.