HRDC/ MSU Tiny Houses

Montana State University Professor Ralph Johnson explains a rendering of the future tiny house community. The School of Architecture Community Design Center class is building several tiny houses as part of a partnership between HRDC and MSU to provide secure living spaces for Bozeman’s homeless population.

A Bozeman nonprofit is still mapping out how to make Montana’s first tiny home village for people without a place to live. It just got some more help.

Mortgage association Fannie Mae announced Wednesday that the Human Resource Development Council was one of five contract winners in its national challenge for projects that intersect housing with health.

The $500,000 award will go toward shaping HRDC’s plans for a village of houses with roughly 200 square feet of living space. The nonprofit hopes to serve people who have lived without a home for years, often due to mental health issues.

“In underserved communities, affordable housing and health outcomes of residents are inextricably linked,” said Maria Evans, vice president for sustainable communities with Fannie Mae. “The five ideas we have chosen to pursue have the potential to reimagine housing as a prescription for a healthy life.”

The association opened the competition in October last year. Hundreds of programs around the nation applied, according to a Fannie Mae spokesperson. The four other contract awardees include projects in Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Newark, New Jersey; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

The contract gives HRDC 24 months to start its pilot program and show how other communities can follow suit.

HRDC Community Development Director Tracy Menuez said she hopes the nonprofit has something on the ground by the last quarter of that two-year deadline.

“There’s a general agreement that we have to just stop talking about housing and health care as separate from each other,” Menuez said.

“This is an opportunity to really research, design a great program and then get something on the ground.”

Menuez said the competition had four rounds. The final 12 applicants met in Washington, D.C., for the last round, which ended with an 8-minute pitch of their project before Fannie Mae officials and sponsors.

HRDC announced the idea of a tiny home village in Bozeman more than two years ago on the argument that people need stable housing to connect to essentials like health services or a job.

Since, HRDC has searched for where the village could go and how to make sure once it’s standing, it lasts. Menuez said the program is still in its design stages.

The nonprofit recently bought roughly 3 acres of land off Griffin Drive where it plans to build a resource center with health and job services along with Bozeman’s first year-round shelter.

The question is whether there is enough space for the tiny home village alongside the hub, as the nonprofit originally planned.

Menuez said HRDC may have to scale down its initial housing vision of roughly 30 to 50 tiny homes or find another location to ensure it’s sustainable. The Fannie Mae contract spells out the nonprofit’s pilot efforts have to include at least 12 homes.

The contact means HRDC will partner with policy research think tank Urban Institute to develop and test new methods for housing people experiencing chronic homelessness.

Menuez said the next step will include finding staff to implement the program, with one person based in Bozeman and the other with the institute. The nonprofit will also begin collecting data around the current costs and needs of people who could eventually move into the tiny homes.

If all goes as planned, Menuez said the finished project will outline how other organizations can work with rules within their states and towns to build a similar program.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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