LA's first prefab tiny home village for the homeless opened this year as a 'test case' for the city - see how it's doing now

·14 min read
Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village.
Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider
  • Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission's Chandler Street Tiny Home Village first opened in February.

  • The village was created to temporarily house North Hollywood's unhoused residents.

  • See how the Los Angeles' first tiny home community is doing now, and how it's inspired similar developments.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

In February, an unassuming and "forgotten" corner of North Hollywood, Los Angeles, was transformed into a colorful village of tiny homes run by nonprofit Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission.

Chandler Boulevard Bridge Home Village
The Chandler Boulevard Bridge Home Village. Lehrer Architects

Source: Insider

City officials first scouted the teardrop-shaped infill lot when they were looking for a place to build "bridge" homes, or shelters meant to aid in finding unhoused residents a permanent home.

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The entrance to the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village Brittany Chang/Insider

Now, 43 residents call the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village their (temporary) home, just a few months after the community's February grand opening.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Lehrer Architects, which designed the tiny home community with the city's Bureau of Engineering, had a $3.49 million budget for the project. But foundational work - including street leveling and sewer lines - became the most expensive component of the project.

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The laundry facility at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Despite this cost, the beta project's shelters "add real value" to the once vacant lot, according to Lehrer Architects.

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The entrance to the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Lehrer Architects

Chandler Village was the first tiny home community Hope of the Valley had planned for Los Angeles.

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The bed inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

It's since served as a "test case" for the city, Rowan Vansleve, CFO of Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission, told Insider.

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A tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The nonprofit has already opened its second tiny home village, pictured below, about two miles away from the initial community, riding off of the success of the Chandler site.

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The Alexandria Park Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Insider

The new site, the Alexandria Park Tiny Home Village, is much larger than the original "test case" Chandler site pictured below. It'll have 200 beds, a significant uptick from Chandler's 75 beds

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Insider

"They had taken another piece of unused land that had encampments on it and they used the learnings of that to build [the new Alexandria Park village]," Vansleve said.

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A peek through the fence into the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

By starting with the Chandler site, the nonprofit learned that the village's bright colors worked well, but that any upcoming villages would need more on-site offices for case managers.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

These learnings were then applied to the new Alexandria site, and will dictate how the nonprofit's future tiny home villages will look.

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The entrance into the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

This includes upcoming communities in the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles, which will be open in the next two months.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

But now, let's take a closer look at the first tiny home village that started it all.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

In April, I took a tour of the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village, which has 40 tiny homes and 75 beds.

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The window of a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Hope of the Valley

After being temperature checked by a guard at the entrance of the community, I walked past a series of lockers into the fenced village.

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The entrance into the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The lockers are meant to secure the residents' items that aren't allowed inside of the village, whether it be drugs or personal defense weapons, Vansleve told me while we toured the Alexandria Park location.

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The entrance into the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

An outdoor smoking area and the restroom facilities with showers sit right across from the entrance.

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The smoking area at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

From there, I turned the corner and was immediately greeted by the line-up of tiny homes, an outdoor seating area, and shipping container-like buildings.

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Outdoor communal areas at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village Brittany Chang/Insider

The shipping container-like buildings make up the communal facilities, which include a laundry room. It's also where the case workers are located.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The village also offers its residents three meals a day here.

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A cup at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The outdoor communal tables are located right next to these facilities and in front of the small dog park, which sits at the center of the village.

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The dog park at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Surrounding these public amenities are the tiny homes.

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The outdoor tables and a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Several of these tiny homes have already been personalized with flowers, flags, and posters.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Each tiny home has an entry door that can be locked, a luxury some of the residents might not have had prior.

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The lock on the door of a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"Achieving this level of privacy and security is not possible in a traditional shelter," Michael Lehrer and Nerin Kadribegovic, Lehrer Architects' founding partner and partner, respectively, told Insider in an email interview in February. "The evocation of a child's drawing of a 'house' and even Monopoly's homes reinforces the idea of 'home.'"

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The bed inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The interior has all of the basic amenities needed to live in a tiny home in Los Angeles, including a bed, a heater …

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

… an air conditioning unit, windows, shelves, and a desk.

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The air conditioning unit inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The units were all created by Washington-based Pallet, which specializes in creating prefab tiny homes that can be quickly assembled to create homes for people who may have been unhoused due to natural or personal disasters.

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"What we felt was really missing from the housing spectrum was a dignified shelter option that honored their individuality and allowed them to have autonomy in their rehabilitation process," Amy King, founder and CEO of Pallet, told Insider in January.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Insider

Parts of the community, including some of the tiny homes, have been painted bright reds, yellows, and blues to keep the village feeling colorful and non-"institutional," according to Vansleve.

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The smoking area of the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Source: Insider

However, it wasn't the community's bright colors that caught my attention. It was the people.

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Two people at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The village's residents were friendlier than my own neighbors: almost every person I walked by smiled and said "hello."

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

And before I left, I had a chat with someone in the village who told me about their daughter, son in college, and interest in other cultures.

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A desk and chair inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The conversation reminded me of something Vansleve told me during our chat at the new Alexandria Park location: "I look at people on the street [in their late 60s, early 70s] and some of them could be my mum. They've experienced incredible amounts of trauma and they're left on the street. I think it's a moral issue."

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Communal areas at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Think of Chandler Street Tiny Home Village as a transitioning place for its residents.

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A tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The goal of the village, and Hope of the Valley's upcoming sites, is to provide its residents with stability and a temporary home while helping them eventually transition into more permanent housing.

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

When a new resident arrives, the community's employees, which include case workers, will help the new individual with a list of personal needs.

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The Pallet logo on a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"Here it's more supportive, more in-depth," Priscilla Rodriguez, a case manager at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village, told Insider. "When somebody comes in, they could be at the very beginning."

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

From there, case workers will help the residents receive necessary paperwork like an ID, a social security card, or a birth certificate.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The team will also help its residents find income. This could be unemployment benefits at first, but will hopefully lead to a job or Supplemental Security Income.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The case workers even help with life skills, which could include teaching them how to keep their tiny homes clean or encouraging them to bathe everyday.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Workers will also connect the residents to doctors and physicians for both mental and physical healthcare.

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The laundry facility at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"Some of them wanted to bring their tents into their home because they're not used to coming out of that setting and transitioning back into permanent housing," Rodriguez said.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

This is the "transition" case workers like Rodriguez are trying to help with.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"They are going to be housed on their own one day, and we want to help support them in every way so that way when they get there, they feel confident to be there and to keep that house on their own," Rodriguez said.

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A window inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The program lasts for 90 days, but can be extended for an additional 90 days if they find the resident is making good headway and improvements, and is "actively working" with the case managers to meet goals.

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The outdoor tables and tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"All we need from them is just to connect with us," Rodriguez said. "Just tell us what you need."

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The dog park at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Every resident in this current batch has already received an extension because the village and program is so new. But moving forward, the goal is for residents to meet the 90-day timeline.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Each resident gets to dictate the pace at which they move, and right now, many of them are showing "tremendous progress."

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The majority of the 43 residents currently being housed at the Chandler site are on track to be housed independently, which is the ultimate goal of the program.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"We really are showing that the program is working," Rodriguez said.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

In order to qualify for a bed at the village, an outreach worker, often from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, has to verify that the potential resident is homeless and resides within a few miles of the village.

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The Chandler site has been so popular there's already a waitlist for the beds.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The team will accept anyone into the village, even if they have substance abuse or mental health issues, physical disabilities, or legal problems.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"We're just people who were trying to help these participants better their life," Rodriguez said. "They're not trying to harm the community in any way, they're trying to get themselves back into that community."

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

And despite the ongoing pandemic, the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village hasn't had any COVID-19 outbreaks.

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Communal areas at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The tiny homes each typically shelter up to two people, but due to the virus, only couples are allowed to share a unit.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

And every one to two weeks, the village offers COVID-19 testing on-site.

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The fence and a sign at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Several residents have already received their first round of vaccines as well.

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Many of the residents have also been complying with face mask wearing, social distancing, and sanitizing protocols, according to Rodriguez.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Despite the work Chandler Street is doing for the homeless community, the program has experienced some protests and hecklers.

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Tiny homes and outdoor tables at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The hecklers "just want to cause a scene saying we've got drug addicts and criminals in here," according to Rodriguez.

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"It's sad to see the pushback because any one of us could be here at any point," Rodriguez said. "You never know what it's gonna take to make you homeless, especially during a covid year."

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Tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

Despite this, the village and its program has so far been a success, and has already attracted international attention.

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The tiny homes at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

As a "test case" for future tiny home communities, and since most residents are on track to be permanently housed, the concept has served as an inspiration for people around the world.

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Communal areas at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

The Chandler site has even seen out-of-country visitors who have been interested in incorporating a similar idea in their own city or state.

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A tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

"It's making a big impact," Rodriguez said. "They see that we have had a lot of success with this program, so I definitely see it expanding ... hopefully all over the country and in other nations as well."

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Inside a tiny home at the Chandler Street Tiny Home Village. Brittany Chang/Insider

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