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Another tiny home proposal addresses at-risk young people 

'Incubator for real life'

click to enlarge A proposed tiny home community is receiving mixed reviews. - COURTESY OF WE FORTIFY
  • Courtesy of We Fortify
  • A proposed tiny home community is receiving mixed reviews.
Should Colorado Springs City Council approve a proposed transitional housing project, five 19th-century homes on Fountain Boulevard between Sierra Madre and Sahwatch streets will be replaced by 18 tiny homes, each about 240 square feet.

They’ll be rented, for $600 a month, to young people between the ages of 18 and 29 working toward independence — those who have a steady job and don’t use drugs, but may need an extra hand after leaving the foster care system, exiting military service, or encountering life difficulties that could put them at risk of becoming homeless.

While some tout the project as a way to prevent homelessness while also keeping workforce housing in the Mill Street neighborhood, it has nonetheless drawn opposition from neighbors, as well as renters in some of the 130-year-old homes that would be demolished to make way for the development.
Developer Shelley Jensen says she identified a location for the development — dubbed Working Fusion at Mill Street — when she ran into Greg Flaks, a longtime friend and the owner of the properties in question, and told him about her idea for a supportive housing development.

“It just so happened that he had been planning on [scrapping] the homes that are currently there, because they’re in pretty bad shape,” Jensen says. “He was planning on putting storage units in, because it’s zoned for light manufacturing... When he learned about what my vision was with the development, he said, ‘I’d much rather use this land to serve people and make a very modest profit, than to [demolish] it and put storage units in and make more money.’”

So, the Flaks Family Trust decided to lease the property to Jensen for 10 years for Working Fusion, a project of nonprofit We Fortify. Renters — who would receive on-site case management and career counseling — are expected to stay for two years, Jensen says, but Working Fusion would be flexible depending on individual circumstances.

The city Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the project July 18, with a 5-1 vote. City Council will hear the proposal at its Sept. 10 meeting, Jensen says.

Commissioner Jim Raughton, the sole dissenter on the Planning Commission, voted against the project on the grounds that it involved losing historic architecture in the Mill Street Neighborhood, something the neighborhood’s recently approved master plan sought to preserve.

But some neighborhood residents were angry over the project for different reasons.

Take Dora Clinger, a longtime renter of one of the homes on West Fountain Boulevard. She says she’d been on a month-to-month rental agreement, and didn’t know she’d be forced to move until she saw a sign describing the tiny home project posted near her house.

“I just felt like after I had paid the Flaks family rent for more than nine years that they could have at least given me a heads-up that this was going to happen, instead of letting me find out from a sign that I had to move,” Clinger says.

Clinger, a graphic designer for a local school district, says she moved out about two months ago, and has been living with family and friends. She’d been paying $500 a month to live in the home on Fountain Boulevard.

“It’s kind of ridiculous, because they’re taking out already low-income housing just to put different low-income housing in,” Clinger says.

Jensen contends that with her assistance, most of the renters (including a family with two autistic children, who feared the kids’ mental health would suffer in the transition) have found new places to live. She says they might not have received the same amount of help had the Flaks family simply decided to demolish the homes and put in storage units.

“It would be horrible, and we wouldn’t be walking our walk, if we said, ‘It’s really important for you to find something on your own.’ That’s not who we are,” Jensen says.

Besides the renters, some Mill Street neighbors also oppose the project, including Ramona Lidmila, the president of the Mill Street Neighborhood Association, who argued to the Planning Commission that the neighborhood was already strained by two nearby homeless shelters, the impending construction of a new stadium, and the upcoming closure of the Martin Drake Power Plant.

“We’re pretty much tapped out, and I guess I wonder why all of these various things are falling into our neighborhood and nowhere else,” Lidmila said.
The renters who would live in the tiny homes would be referred by local nonprofits, according to Jensen. Working Fusion has a formal agreement with Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center for referrals, Jensen says, and would ideally also work with other organizations like Urban Peak, which serves homeless youths, and Fostering Hope Foundation.

Shawna Kemppainen, the executive director of Urban Peak, says she spoke with Jensen about the project several months ago. She’s not yet certain that Urban Peak could be a referral source for the project if programming like financial counseling is mandatory.

“It would be a challenge, from our perspective, for many of the youth to stick with, at the time, what she described as the kind of programming,” Kemppainen says. “...We just cautioned her that it could be that [a youth] would say, ‘Yeah, I want to do that,’ and then maybe a few months in they’re like, ‘Well, to hell with your budgeting class.’”

Jensen says the programming will be tailored to each individual client: “We’re meeting each villager where they’re at. So if we have a villager who does a really great job already with managing their checkbook, it won’t be required. If we have a villager who has no idea how to manage money, it’s going to be required.”

While Kemppainen isn’t sure whether those requirements will make Urban Peak a suitable referral source, she voices optimism about the project’s potential.

“Shelley has nothing but the purest and best intentions and is pouring her fire into this, and she has the capacity to really, I think, implement and get things done,” Kemppainen says. “I admire her a lot with moving this forward in a way that works.”

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