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Students draft ordinance to enable tiny home villages in Lewiston

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Photo courtesy of Washington State University

Tiny home villages may someday provide an affordable housing option in Lewiston, Idaho, thanks in part to students at Washington State University.

Nine senior landscape architecture students and an interior design student worked together to draft a model ordinance that would allow and regulate tiny homes in Lewiston, the county seat of Nez Perce County. Located about 32 miles from WSU’s Pullman campus, Lewiston is home to nearly 33,000 residents. Approximately 160 of them are believed to be homeless.

“Tiny homes provide options for the unhoused and housing insecure people within the community,” said Jesus Gomez, a senior in landscape architecture who worked on the project. “We took it as a possibility of coming together as a class and trying to develop new ways and solutions to provide ideas in a time when housing is a crisis.”

As part of their project, the students prepared case studies of non-profit tiny home villages in the western U.S. to understand development issues such as zoning, management and affordable design standards. In researching existing villages comprised of both transitional and permanent housing, the students compared various forms of ownership, operations, management, and zoning.

The students from WSU’s School of Design + Construction also took virtual tours of Lewiston to familiarize themselves with its land use patterns, and met with city planners and a local developer. The “field work” was done remotely via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For purposes of their proposed ordinance, students considered tiny homes as ranging from 80 to 200 square feet, and typically defined to be less than 400 square feet. They noted tiny home villages are intentional collections of homes of these sizes. They also acknowledged tiny homes can encompass a range of housing options that “can serve different purposes and often different populations, but both face many of the same barriers to implementation.”

Students worked with their instructor, Steve Austin, a clinical assistant professor whose career also includes experience as an award-winning land planner and designer, town and regional planner, land use attorney, and community organizer. He reported Lewiston’s staff planners have reviewed the draft and suggested some changes before it is submitted to the Planning & Zoning Commission.

“Tiny home availability can be one solution among many others in a coordinated approach to affordability and availability,” Austin said. “This student work complements the many positive actions the community is already taking to address these issues.”

For students like Gomez, the project provided valuable experience in the legal and community aspects of land-use planning, along with appreciation for the importance of developing designs for the benefit of the community. “This was a whole new experience for me,” said Gomez, who added, ‘This project opened up new perspectives and new ways of looking at the discipline.” He plans to continue his studies at the University of Idaho where he will pursue a master’s degree in architecture.

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