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Denver mayor's $7 million request for tiny homes inches closer to approval

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Posted at 7:53 AM, Aug 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-23 09:53:49-04

DENVER — The Denver City Council moved closer to approving Mayor Mike Johnston’s request to purchase hundreds of tiny home shelters to house people experiencing homelessness.

The city council’s finance and governance committee moved a resolution forward Tuesday that would authorize the city to purchase 200 tiny home units and additional equipment for $7 million. The tiny homes, which would be placed in micro-community sites, are one part of Johnston’s plan to move 1,000 people off the streets by the end of the year.

If the council gives final approval, the city will purchase the tiny homes and other equipment, including furniture, from Pallet, a social purpose company based in Everett, Washington.

“We can, and we should, end homelessness in our lifetime,” said Amy King, the founder and CEO of Pallet.

King spoke with Denver7 after she attended the committee meeting and a closed-door meeting with Denver city officials.

“Each of our products is comprised of seven different panels that ship on a truck,” said King. “Our shelters go together in under an hour. We manufacture them in the U.S. in Everett, Washington. They're made to be deployed quickly and at-scale to address the crisis in front of us.”

King said Pallet has shipped tiny homes to more than 80 cities, including Aurora, to help house people experiencing homelessness.

“Each of our shelters includes beds, desks, electrical panels, heat, air conditioning, windows, and most importantly, a locking door. Residents want the privacy and dignity of their own space or space to share with their own family unit,” said King. "What we typically see on average is residents stay about three to six months. And that varies."

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A list of items Denver Mayor Mike Johnston wants to purchase from Pallet, a social purpose company that supplies tiny homes.

According to a master purchase order, the mayor’s office wants to buy 130 of Pallet’s 70 square-feet homes at a cost of $13,900 per unit. It plans to buy 70 larger homes (120 square-feet) for $18,900 per unit.

Aside from the building materials, King said labor is factored into the cost of each unit. She said Pallet is a certified living wage employer.

“The majority of our staff who build these shelters are people who are experiencing homelessness, exiting the justice system in America, are recovering from addiction,” said King. “So, the cost of our shelters actually pays for people's jobs and their sustainability.”

The city would also spend about $86,000 on air-conditioning units, $319,000 on heaters and $170,000 on furniture, including beds, bed frames and folding desks.

In addition to the living units, the city could also spend nearly $800,000 on community rooms, laundry rooms, and bathrooms. King said the community rooms are typically used for food distribution and social gatherings.

“My background is in mental health and health care. Just giving someone a house is not enough to solve their homelessness. You have to embed people in a supportive community with services,” said King. “We want to draw people out of their shelters and into those community spaces, to build relationships to reintegrate, to get the supportive services that they need and build that community that they need for long-term success.”

The cost of the tiny homes and shared spaces total $5.1 million The mayor’s senior homelessness advisor, Cole Chandler, said the remaining $2 million would be used to get each micro-community site ready.

“The million-dollar estimate is actually something that came from [Department of Transportation and Infrastructure] contractors looking at sort of what it would take to build out the sites as they’ve been spec’d out,” said Chandler.

Denver City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore asked Chandler to provide a detailed list itemizing the costs to get each site ready.

“Immediately when I hear infrastructure, I think water [and] sewer. But now you’re talking about potentially sidewalks, and I’d think there has to be lighting,” said Gilmore. “We’re creating communities here, and so I want to make sure that million-dollar estimate per site doesn’t grow or that we know beforehand if it is going to grow.”

The mayor's office is seeking community-based non-profitsto provide wraparound services at the micro community sites.

The resolution must still be considered and approved by the full council before the purchase could move forward. If approved, the first shipments would arrive November 1, according to the master purchase order.