By Occupy Madison, Inc. . . . a new place for our workshop and a place to park 11 tiny homes. It is at 2046 E Johnson St. (Sanchez Motors) where Johnson splits and goes past East High, North Street and towards E. Washington. Next to B-cycle and near the PDQ.
Welcome to our new adventure!
WHO ARE WE?
Occupy Madison Inc. is a not-profit registered with the state since December 2012. Center for Community Stewardship is our fiscal agent. We are in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status on our own. We are a membership organization with about 40 members. We have a board of directors made up of roughly half people who have experienced homelessness or are currently experiencing homelessness and half who are and have been more traditionally housed. Our current main project is OM Build, which is the project where we are building tiny homes. Our plans for the future are much bigger than this, but we are an entirely volunteer group that sometimes moves slowly as a result.
TIMELINE CATCH UP
We have looked at 100s of properties, literally. We have been looking at real estate for 8 months or longer, some of us were also were looking at properties for the day center, so we know way more about which buildings are for sale or lease in Madison than we really want to. We currently rent a shop at 4235B Argosy Court, but we are looking for a home of our own, where we can build equity and have more control of what we do there and have more space.
Additionally, the week after Thanksgiving 3 members of our group (myself, Rob and Bruce) visited tiny villages and encampments in Portland, Eugene, Olympia and Seattle to learn from their experiences. We came home and were excited about what we had learned, but I don’t think we thought anything would happen this fast!
Here’s the timeline:
December 12th – Talk to zoning staff about some of our ideas and what we learned.
December 19th – A couple members looked at this property (2046 E. Johnson) and talked to the bank, quick research on environmental issues/underground tanks.
December 21st – Board met and approved making an offer to purchase and pursuing this opportunity, several members agreed to personally guarantee a loan.
December 28th – We put in an offer with many contingencies (typical conditions, financing, property condition, environmental, etc.)
December 29th – Notified the neighborhood and alder that we would be seeking a conditional use (now we are rezoning, so need to re-notify)
January 2nd – offer accepted and impromtu meeting with some neighbors
1st week of January – reached out to and quick updates to Principal of East High, Mayor’s office, police department, James Reeb, Sanchez Motors, etc.
January 8th – Meeting with city Zoning and Public Health Department
January 8th – Neighborhood association meeting
WHAT WOULD WE DO WITH THE PROPERTY
It’s not an encampment or tent city. I believe Madison needs one, since three people slept on my porch last night, at least two banned from shelter, but that’s a completely different thing and there are no plans I am aware of for one. This is not that. And I don’t expect anyone to take that on this winter or any time soon.
This is primarily our workshop. As I mentioned, we are currently renting at 4235B Argosy Ct. The place is a challenge for us as it is a long walk from the bus, most people can’t find it easily, our volunteers are primarily downtown/near east side, we need more space to store the pallets and wood, we can’t park our tiny houses there so they have to be on the street for people to sleep in them, our garage door is only 8 feet tall, etc. In the workshop we tear apart pallets, build the houses, build items to sell for fundraising, weld the trailers for the houses and we have a small office area. We also have a small storage area for our pallets and lumber. At the new space we can do all of the above, plus have a small retail store for our items we create for sale for fundraising.
Our secondary goal is to create a cooperatively run, self-managed eco-village for formerly homeless people to live in a sustainable way. We hope to have raised bed gardens and a green house, chickens?, bees?, solar or wind energy?, an artistic/”cute” fence, a few parking spaces for volunteers, and . . . (add your dream here, but no tent city!). Some neighbors have mentioned wanting a b-cycle station and other things they would like to see in our new community, our village, our neighborhood, and we are open to suggestions and discussions about what will work best.
WHAT KIND OF ZONING/APPROVALS WILL WE NEED
Initially we thought we would be an “artisan workshop” and that would be a permitted use, and we would need a conditional use for the “portable mission shelter” which is what the tiny houses are, they are considered campers, which requires a state campground permit (Public Health Department issues these). This would have been only a plan commission approval which we could have gotten mid to late March, but it would have required an ordinance change to allow us to do the portable mission shelter in the neighborhood mixed use zoning.
City staff thinks we are “manufacturing” and that we would need to do a planned development because of the unique nature of our project and multiple uses. This requires Urban Design Commission, Plan Commission and Common Council review and approval. A longer process that will likely lead to a better project in the end but take an extra month if we can scramble and put the application together by February 5th, and yes, it will cost us a couple thousand dollars more. However, this process would basically cover all approvals necessary except the campground permit which would be a condition of approval and would have a more thorough review and a better understanding of what to expect for our community.
CONCERNS OF NEIGHBORS
Understandably, neighbors have concerns, the closer they live, the more concerns. Luckily we didn’t find them outrageous. Not the type of NIMBYism and hatred that we have experienced elsewhere. Some stereotypes about the population that would be living there and misunderstandings about the current “system” for the homeless and availability of services – but that is also understandable given some of the statements by city and county officials made in the press over the past few years. Here’s the questions we have been asked by neighbors and people in the community that are concerned:
Will there be people huddled around a fire/burn barrel?
No. The houses are heated and there is a heated building. There would be no reason to have a fire as a heat source. Additionally, this is not a come one, come all situation. Only people attending events, who are living there, their guests or people working in the shop, in the gardens, dropping off donations or shopping in our small retail space would be there. This is not a hang out space. This is a space you need to participate in. However, people will be living there and may have a limited number of guests from time to time.
Will you do background checks on the people living there?
No. We are not certain that past behavior is necessarily a predictor of current behavior. Additionally, the people will need to volunteer 30 hours before they are considered for a home and they have to commit to volunteering 500 hours to live in a tiny home. Even after they complete all their hours, they have to continue to participate in the community (weekly meetings, security shifts, cleaning, store clerk, etc.) This process results in self-selection, some people show up a few times and never come back. Additionally, we believe in a Housing First philosophy that gets people in to housing first, then you deal with other issues. Issues are much easier to resolve when you have housing. We are trying to get people on a different path from where they have been – and as a result, where they have been hopefully doesn’t indicate where they are going. This is a second (or third or fourth or more) chance, for people who don’t get them. When there are issues, we work towards restorative justice and work through the issues with people. Finally, we work side by side with these folks in the shop, get to know them, talk about their past, acknowledge it and help them learn from it. And, we know we need to choose people for the first few homes very carefully, because the future of our project depends on it.
What about sex offenders?
Registered sex offenders and those on probation or parole have on-going supervision that will limit their behaviors and if the professionals working with they believe this is not a good fit, they are in the best position to determine that. Additionally, please remember there are all kinds of sex offenders from pedophiles to 18 year old people that had sex with 16 year old persons. It’s hard to have the same rules for two very different offenses.
Will it be alcohol free?
There is zero tolerance in the workshop because we are working with power tools. No alcohol, ever. We have not banned alcohol from the homes. We expect that people keep the drama to a minimum and are behavior oriented. If people can’t behave when drinking, then they can’t drink because the behavior will need to be addressed. Others may have a different relationship with alcohol – we leave that to the discretion, the behavior is what we address. Additionally, we know that there may be people who require maintenance drinking to manage their situation – but those folks wouldn’t work out well because of our zero tolerance policy for the work shop and the work requirements.
Why don’t people just use Porchlight or Salvation Army services?
Many and varied reasons. They the have a dog or pet, they are a couple and there is not a place for couples to stay together, they have anxiety or PTSD or similar issues and can’t sleep in group living situations or panic being locked in a facility, their 60 days are used up and they have to wait a year before they can go back unless it is less than 20 degrees and there is a weather exception, their belongings aren’t safe, they work second or third shift or odd hours, they have conflicts with other guests or staff, they want privacy, etc etc etc etc etc. Additionally, one model doesn’t work for everyone, and there is only one option, if it doesn’t fit for people, there are no other options.
What about the restrooms and showers?
We are required to have 2 restrooms for men and 2 restrooms for women. We will also be adding showers and a small sink/kitchen area. The cleaning of these areas will be the responsibility of the people using them.
ISSUES WE FACE
There are many hurdles to jump over to get to the finish line here.
Environmental – There were tanks on this property at one time, the DNR paperwork says they are closed and removed. Anecdotally we know that truckloads of contaminate dirt was trucked out and sand was trucked in and it cost $50,000 at the time. We need to do a Phase I environmental study to further explore this issue.
Financing – We are working on getting a loan. We currently need $22,000 to close, we have half of it, but the costs of the project are going up and we will need to raise $30,000 – $50,000 to be able to have enough cash flow for ongoing costs and to make the improvements we need to make and still have money to make the tiny homes. And the more money we raise, the less of a loan we have, the smaller our monthly payments.
Property Conditions – Obviously, the property is quite run down and needs a lot of work. Hopefully we don’t run into additional cost issues.
Appraisal – The bank has to be satisfied that an appraisal shows that the price we are paying is appropriate.
Zoning – See above. This is now a planned development. Obviously, the neighborhood has to be largely satisfied, the alder has to agree and then we have to make it through the Urban Design, Plan Commission and Common Council scrutiny. Because it is a planned development and really what we want to do isn’t allowed anywhere in the city, we will be able to work through all the details and concerns of the neighbors, citizen committees and elected officials.
WHERE TO PARK THESE HOUSES UNTIL JUNE?
Our timeline is much longer than we need it to be. We are still searching for a church or nonprofit willing to host these houses until we have the land ready to park them there. We would need to also go through a conditional use for that, with another neighborhood, another alder and still go to the plan commission. Or, we park them on the street and move them every 24 or 48 hours.
HOW WILL WE PAY FOR THIS?
Fundraising. Fundraiser this weekend at the High Noon Saloon, 1 – 5. Tiny house will be there if you want to see it. $6 cover at the door, 40th birthday party for local realtor and my friend Tobi Silgman, silent auction, DJ Trichrome and guest, free beer and cupcakes and treats while they last. Additional donations accepted and appreciated!
Lots of work. See above! Meetings with planners, architects, contractors in addition to the community. The biggest and most important community meeting is next Wednesday, 6:300 at James Reeb on E. Johnson St. That meeting is being hosted by Alder Larry Palm and that is your opportunity to hear our project, ask questions and give input. If that is satisfactory, we would try to get an application in by February 5th, with UDC and Plan commission meetings in March and Council meeting in April. That timeline is likely to shift, but that is the current projection, we will get those dates to people when we have them nailed down.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
VOLUNTEER – To volunteer, go to our website and sign up on the form at the bottom of the page and you will get weekly updates and notifications of our shop hours – or visit the website weekly. And obviously, if you’ve ever been involved in the development process, have experience fundraising, like having events, or are creative in any way, like gardening, have chickens or bees, we need help with this new adventure. If you sign up to volunteer, we’ll be in contact and again, if we have your email we will get monthly updates.
DONATE – If you can make it to the event, donate there. If you can’t, you can donate here!
SHARE WITH YOUR FRIENDS! – We will be doing an Indiegogo campaign, when we do, share, share, share! Meanwhile, help us get our word out about what this project is and isn’t. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors and acquaintances, let us know concerns and help us talk about the project and why it is happening.
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