Housing 2.0 (Lessons From The USA)

housing 2.0, Silicon Valley. Lessons from the USA

In January 2016, I was thrilled to be awarded a Travelling Fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, enabling me to venture all the way to America in my quest to find alternative solutions for homelessness issues in Britain. This once-in-a-lifetime venture was an incredible learning experience, enabling me to connect with the professionals and services I had respected and admired for so long, from afar.

Amy Varle and Social Property Investment

Housing 2.0, Silicon Valley

During my first day travelling in California, I attended an interactive governmental-hosted housing conference – Housing 2.0: Re-Imagining the Housing System in Silicon Valley.

This pop-up event brought a network of professionals, academics, volunteers, founders, religious leaders and governmental figures to showcase and debate topics such as the tiny-home movement, land ownership inequality, gentrification and the incredible number of street homeless residing in Silicon Valley.

‘Housing 2.0’ asked the question: ‘How can we leverage such an incredible culture of enterprise and apply it to solving the housing crisis?’

Mayor Lee Ricardo speaking at Housing 2.0 in Silicon Valley
Mayor Lee Ricardo speaking at Housing 2.0

Housing First

Housing First is a strategy which provides people experiencing homelessness with permanent accommodation, along with the supporting services they may need to successfully maintain their tenancy.

This approach has developed great traction in the United States of America over the last decade.

Boasting an average 80% success rate amongst pilot schemes undertaken internationally the Housing First methodology is now widely cited as the most effective route to ending chronic homelessness, across developed nations.

With the UK hastily working to trial and test its own adaptations of the Housing First strategy, it is only a matter of time before housing as a solution to homelessness becomes the preferential method of address across Britain.

Indeed, the recent passing of the Homelessness Reduction Bill will see increasing pressures placed on local authorities to provide accommodation options for those who seek assistance.

There is only one (glaringly obvious) problem.

We simply don’t have an adequate supply of suitable property to meet such elevated demand: there are over 1.8 million households registered on social housing waiting lists. And so, presently, housing as a rapid solution to homelessness is an option which is largely unavailable to those who need it most.


One creative solution offered towards the affordable home shortage in California is the evolution of the ‘tiny homes’ and ‘micro living’ movement: the growing popularity in creating compact and unique structural alternatives to standard or traditional housing.

Simply put, micro-living is a social movement where people are choosing to downsize their possessions and the living space which they occupy.

Ted Hayes, Justiceville USA and Dome Village

Whilst in Los Angeles, I met with Theodore ‘Ted’ Hayes, who created one of the earliest tiny-home communities in LA back in 1993.

Amy Varle meets Ted Hayes in Los Angeles in 2016
Amy meets Ted Hayes – Founder of one of the earliest tiny-home communities and Justiceville USA

Ted Hayes is the founder of Justiceville USA, a non-profit organisation which explores structural alternatives for people who are unable – or even unwilling – to return to a ‘mainstream’ lifestyle.

A project of Ted’s was the Dome Village which operated for thirteen years as a utopian vision to end homelessness in the city of Los Angeles, welcoming the needy into a small urban community of 18 dome structures on a vacant piece of land.

The polyester fibreglass dome units cost around $10,000 each to build and were relatively easy to assemble, repair and maintain.

During the village’s existence – which ceased in 2006, owing to a steep increase in the land’s ground rent – hundreds of homeless people, including singles, couples and families – were given a safe environment where they could re-join with society and begin to thrive.

Ted Hayes at the Dome Village in Los Angeles in 1993
Ted Hayes at the Dome Village, Los Angeles in 1993

Modern Tiny Homes

‘Tiny homes’ generally contain all the essential facilities expected of a one-bedroom residence, ingeniously allowing an admirable use of a compact, dimensional area.

Innovation in such design and build is allowing exploration of community housing methods which are inclusive for all, with the modern trend seeing ‘tiny home’ villages sweep across the USA. There are many stunning visual examples to take inspiration from.

Modern tiny homes demonstrated at Housing 2.0, Silicon Valey
Modern tiny homes – on display at Housing 2.0

The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet and the average one-bedroom home in the UK is 495 square feet; by comparison, a small or tiny house is generally between 120 and 320 square feet.

According to RIBA, standard specification new-build homes in the UK can be constructed for approximately £626.48 m2.

Generally, costs for tiny home build in the USA range between $10,000 – $80,000 for a fully completed unit.

What Can We Learn?

Using ‘tiny home’ methods to maximise potential output of residential building projects at home in Britain, we can diversify available space with adaptations such as;

  • Replacing doors with sliding walls;
  • Adding multi-purpose furniture;
  • Making use of sleeping decks;
  • Installing retractable drawers for appliances.

Likewise, we can build upwards to incorporate storage and reveal a larger area of floor area to work with.

If each new development in the UK were able to further increase project efficiency by better utilisation of available space, could additional units of accommodation be added to the design of future building projects?

Would mass-adoption of these actions make a great enough impact to significantly increase housing supply?

Could abandoned or derelict buildings be converted economically in order to safely house communities of people who are estranged from mainstream society?

With the number of people living in Britain projected to rise by ten million to 74.3 million by 2039, 50,000 new houses would have to be built each year in London alone to keep up with demand and this is clearly problematic.

The idea of micro-living in Britain is becoming more and more attractive and exploration of tiny, temporary or prefabricated units could provide a viable solution to alleviating demand for accommodation.

Next: Part 6 – Shared Living In the USA and UK
Previously: Part 4 – Social Property Investment

Get In Touch

I’ll be on hand to answer your questions if you leave them in the comments section below. And, if there are any topics you’d like exploring with the experts I’ll be meeting then don’t hesitate to get in touch either here or on the Property Investments UK Facebook page.

And, of course don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Twitter – Amy Felicity Vale / @MissAmyVarle

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