Madison’s City Council approved three measures addressing housing, financing and rights for the homeless at a Tuesday meeting.
The council passed an ordinance allowing small, portable housing to be parked overnight in certain parking lots, an item directing the Community Development Authority of Madison to issue a request for qualifications for development services relating to financing for homeless adults and a resolution adopting a bill of rights for the homeless in Madison.
“One thing that I was reminded of tonight was the sheer number of homeless individuals that have become engaged in the political process in Madison,” Mike Verveer, Ald. District 4, said.
Multiple member of the homeless community spoke at the meeting in regard to different agenda items. Members of advocacy and nonprofit groups were also available to speak and answer questions.
The council spent the majority of the time addressing the ordinance that allows for “tiny homes,” a project undertaken by volunteers from Madison, to be parked overnight at churches or non-profit organizations.
Members of the homeless community referred to the “tiny houses” as a “godsend.”
Brenda Konkel, one of the volunteers, said the “tiny houses” are small, portable structures built by the homeless, for the homeless, for under $5,000. The idea behind the program is to provide homeless people with temporary housing, so they do not have to sleep outdoors or on the streets, Konkel said.
The change in ordinance gives the “tiny houses” designated locations, as opposed to parking on the sides of city streets.
Parking the “tiny houses” is still subject to the city Plan Commission’s conditional use process, Verveer said. Churches or other organizations must submit an application to the commission to allow the houses to park in their lots, he said. The commission has final authority on allowing the structures to stay overnight, he said.
Council members expressed concern over how the ordinance would play into state requirements for designating a campground. Konkel said if a location has more than three tiny houses, it would need to obtain a costly campground license from the state.
Some members of the homeless community said the tiny houses would not solve the homelessness issue in the city, but it could be a start. Konkel said there are currently 450 “chronically” homeless men, 95 women and 68 families in Madison.
“Tiny houses in itself will not fix the problem,” Dave Peters, who is currently homeless, said. “We need single unit housing. We need housing that will give individuals an affordable place to live. Right now we don’t have that in Madison.”
Scott Resnick, Ald. District 8, said models similar to the tiny homes or villages have been explored elsewhere, such as Portland, Ore.
Part of the tiny house program involves inhabitants agreeing to be part of the tiny house community, Konkel said. They must help to build their own house, as well as others, she said.
“[The program] is viable and empowering,” Resnick said. “I think there is something to it.”
Konkel said no churches or organizations have agreed to offer their parking lots. However, she said this is largely because the council had not yet passed the new ordinance to make the location of the tiny houses legal.
The other additional two agenda items addressing homelessness in Madison, an item directing the Community Development Authority of Madison to issue a request for qualifications for development services relating to financing for homeless adults and a resolution adopting a bill of rights for the homeless in the city, were passed unanimously.
“I absolutely think that, in a small way, each of the measures we approved tonight will help [the homeless],” Verveer said.