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Bozeman looks to build tiny home village for homeless

The tiny home built by MSU architecture students.jpg

In Bozeman a push is underway to find affordable housing for those without a home. Montana State University students were working hard in class Tuesday on a potential tiny solution.

The architecture students were working on what they like to call "building intelligently" -- putting finishing touches on the first prototype tiny home for a village the Bozeman Human Resource Development Council has in the works.

The agency is currently looking for the land to build a village of about 30 to 50 tiny homes for the chronically homeless.

MSU architecture professor Ralph Johnson says it reflects a need in Bozeman.

"With the average rental being over $800 a month, many people cannot afford housing," he said.

He and his students worked for two years researching different homeless villages in other cities and coming up with cardboard prototypes of tiny homes.

The result is an energy-efficient, 145-square-foot home that cost $12,000 in building materials. It's currently standing on a lot at MSU's family housing, where they plan to build three more tiny homes with different designs and have students test run them during the time the HRDC takes to acquire land for the village.

A female student has already signed up to live in the first prototype starting this fall semester.

Johnson says, despite its small size, the students worked hard to create an inviting space.

"Everyone who goes in here says 'Wow, it's really nice in here,'" and that's showing respect for the homeless," he said.

"I think it's really important that we not build just the cheapest enclosure, because No. 1 -- we don't want to create a ghetto, and No. 2 -- we want people to have pride in the place they're living," he added.

Johnson says the HRDC hopes that by giving the chronically homeless a roof over their head and a nice environment, it'll eventually help them get back on their feet.

"HRDC did a study, and the average homeless person costs the city, hospitals, you and I about $28,000 a year," he said. "When we've looked at other homeless villages that number is cut in half, or sometimes even more."

But the homeless are not the only ones who will benefit from this endeavor. The students gain hands-on experience.

"Most of the students haven't had a lot of experience in construction, so in a lot of ways this is their learning crucible," said Jacob Ballweber, an

architecture student who has past construction work experience.

"This is kind of a unique experience for architects, because most don't get the chance to do actual building," he added.

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