Frequently Asked Questions About Tiny Homes for the Homeless

What is a tiny home for the homeless? Why do we need them?

aerial photo of Raven tiny home village in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood

Every night in Seattle/King County, WA, more than 9800 people sleep on the streets or in vehicles, according to the 2024 Point-in-Time Count.  There is a tremendous and immediate need for indoor alternatives.  Tiny homes are small structures built as temporary alternatives to living outside, so that our homeless neighbors aren’t sleeping in leaky tents, muddy encampments, unsafe vehicles, or abandoned buildings while they await permanent housing.  Tiny homes are not permanent housing and are not an alternative to building more permanent affordable housing.  Rather, they are transitional housing that allows our homeless neighbors a way to live inside where it’s warm, safe, and dry while they stabilize in a village with wraparound services to get them to the next step in their lives. 

How large are the tiny homes?  Do they have heat and electricity?  What about running water?

Our tiny homes are 8 ft. x 12 ft., roughly the size of a bedroom, and are equipped with a bed, linens, standing closet, and other necessities.  Once they leave The Hope Factory for the villages, they are wired for electricity and are given an overhead light, wall outlets, a space heater, and an a/c unit.  The villages provide community spaces, shared bathrooms with hot showers and flushable toilets, and a community kitchen, laundry facility and pantry.

interior tiny home photos from the opening of Raven Village, the newest tiny home village for the homeless in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood

How long does it take to build a tiny home for the homeless?

volunteers building tiny homes for the homeless, a fast and affordable solution to ending homelessness in seattle

Our jig system and assembly line style building process allow us to work on multiple homes at a time in our 15,000 square foot building facility.  To build and assemble four walls and the roof framing takes an inexperienced group a single day.  A team of experience volunteers can frame two homes in a day.  The remaining steps, including insulation, interior wall & ceiling panels, flooring, roofing, interior & exterior trim, and interior & exterior paint, require about two weeks from start to finish.  At a moderate and consistent pace, we finish roughly four homes per week.

a row of four nearly complete tiny homes for the homeless at Sound foundations nw, a non-profit builder

How do you build your tiny homes for the homeless?

Our tiny homes are built to last 20 years.  They are wood frame construction, fully insulated, painted, and roofed with standard asphalt shingles.  They also have Pergo flooring, two operable windows, and a locking front door for residents’ privacy and security.  Our homes are built on a jig system which are basically very large templates, that allow even those with no construction experience to build one.  Plans for our entire construction system, including architectural drawing for the jigs, materials lists, cut lists, and assembly steps are available for free to any nonprofit or government agency that would like them.  Email soundfoundationsnw@gmail.com to inquire.

Why are tiny homes a good solution to homelessness?

infographic showing tiny homes for the homeless are 3x as effective at solving homelessness in seattle area vs traditional group shelter

Tiny homes are a positive solution to unsheltered homelessness because they are a quick, scalable, affordable, and desirable alternative to citizens living on the streets.  Non-group (or, “non-congregate”) shelter options, like tiny homes and refurbished hotels & motels, where people have their own key and a place to secure themselves and their belongings, are generally much more desired by folks who are otherwise homeless than are traditional group shelters.

We build tiny homes for a small fraction of the cost of other non-congregate shelter options.  And in 2023 according to LIHI, the supportive services that come with living in a tiny home village were successful 63% of the time at moving residents into permanent housing and breaking the cycle of homelessness.  That’s one of the highest placement rates in the country.

Why doesn’t the city, state or federal governments pay for the tiny homes?

Homelessness is a complex problem with many root causes and many agencies within each government are trying to find solutions to the homelessness crisis.  We are just one way to help temporarily solve the problem.  Tiny homes are relatively inexpensive, durable, scalable, and most importantly desirable by the folks who need shelter, and they provide temporary housing until other, longer term solutions made by governments and other agencies can be achieved.  Sound Foundations NW does receive some grants from the City of Seattle and Washington State.

What are tiny home “villages”?  Does Sound Foundations NW operate the tiny home villages?

LIHI’s Riverton Park Village, Tukwila
aerial photo of Raven tiny home village, a solution to homelessness in Ballard, Seattle
Chief Seattle Club’s Raven Village, Ballard, Seattle

When the finished tiny homes leave our building, we donate them to one of our partner agencies who cluster the homes in pre-approved sites, or villages. Villages add communal restroom/ shower facilities, community kitchens & laundry, and are staffed and secure 24/7.

What we have learned from other cities that are ending homelessness is this:  homelessness is not about a lack of a home.  Homelessness is about a lack of COMMUNITY.  Villages help residents create community among themselves and stabilize and rebuild trust after the suspicion and instability of being homeless.

How much does a tiny home cost? How does that compare with other solutions?

infographic comparing cost of tiny homes for the homeless as a solution to homelessness vs cost of repurposed hotel rooms

Our tiny homes currently cost about $4500 ea. worth of materials to build (Winter, 2024).  We keep costs so low because we use a nearly 100% volunteer building crew.  Only 3% of our costs are administrative costs.  By comparison, in July 2021, King County purchased a former hotel for $28.25M to provide transitional housing for up to 144 people – a rate of $196,181 per person. 

Do you accept donations to help build tiny homes for the homeless?

donate to help build tiny homes for the homeless, a solution to homelessness, in Seattle

Yes, thank you!  Our building materials are all purchased, not donated, although we do receive volume discounts.  Most of our funding comes from individual and corporate donations, and we welcome any financial assistance you can offer.  To donate by check, credit/debit card, direct bank transfer, your Donor Advised Fund or from your IRA, even appreciated stock or cryptocurrency, please click the button, go to our donation page, or contact our Development Coordinator at devel.sfnw@gmail.com .

Graphic showing $4500 cost of building materials at Sound Foundations NW, a non-profit builder of transitional tiny homes as a solution to homelessness in Seattle

Is Sound Foundations NW an official nonprofit?

Yes, we are an IRS-registered 501c3 organization, EIN 85-3697725.  Donations to us qualify as tax-deductible, but please consult a tax or financial professional for your specific situation.

graphic showing Sound Foundation NW's IRS determined nonprofit 501c3 status

Is the Low Income Housing Institute involved with Sound Foundations NW?

tiny homes and community spaces at Southend tiny home village in seattle, a solution to homelessness
LIHI’s Southend Village in Rainier Valley, Seattle – these homes built by SFNW

Yes.  While Sound Foundations NW builds the tiny homes, we collaborate with the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) and other nonprofits to manage the villages and offer the social services, emotional support, and skills training that residents need to move beyond homelessness.  As of Fall, 2023, LIHI manages 21 tiny home villages in King, Pierce, Thurston & Whatcom Counties.  Two other service providers, Chief Seattle Club and Catholic Community Services, operate three additional tiny home villages within Seattle.

See a list of the LIHI-run Tiny Home Villages here: https://www.lihihousing.org/villages

Are there services available in tiny home villages?

Yes.  In the village, case managers help residents with administrative tasks like document replacement and registration for benefits, educational and job training opportunities, referrals for medical treatment or counseling services, and even for addiction treatment .  These supportive services, combined with a safe and stable place to live and plenty to eat, helped more than 63% of tiny home village residents exit to some form of permanent housing in 2023 – a rate far higher than almost every other shelter model.

“More than 63% of tiny home village residents exited their tiny home for some form of permanent housing in 2023”

Will my donation go to LIHI or to Sound Foundations NW?

donate to help build tiny homes for the homeless, a solution to homelessness, in Seattle

In the past, donations to Sound Foundations NW were processed for us by LIHI.  But as our own 501c3-registered nonprofit, we now accept all our own donations directly.  Roughly 97% of your donation goes directly to purchase building materials for the tiny homes.  Click here to make a donation.  We are also always looking for tiny home sponsors, and corporate community partners who are looking to make an enormous difference in our local community.  Please email our Development Coordinator at devel.sfnw@gmail.com for more information, or see our Tiny Home Sponsor page on our website.

our first complete tiny home sponsor wall, representing 62 tiny homes for the homeless
Join our Tiny Home Sponsor Wall by sponsoring a complete tiny home!

Aren’t tiny homes for the homeless just glorified shacks or shantytowns?

Absolutely not.  Our tiny homes are dignified and durable structures, offering security and privacy, and designed by an architect to last at least twenty years.  Our homes have heat & air conditioning, electricity, operable windows, and a locking door for both privacy and security.  Services available to residents include document, educational, and other administrative support, restrooms and showers, food and cooking facilities, medical and dental referrals, even referrals for addiction treatment. We know it’s not a permanent solution, but it’s better than living on the ground, under the highway, or in a car, sometimes for years, until permanent housing can be secured.

interior tiny home photos from the opening of Raven Village, the newest tiny home village for the homeless in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood
Tiny Home interiors are finished, comfortable, and secure

Isn’t it cruel to force someone to live in a tiny house?  Why don’t we just build more affordable housing?

In a perfect world, that would be the best solution.  However, the “homeless problem” is not just one problem with one solution.  The reality is that many deserving homeless persons are now on a wait list for permanent housing for several years.  In the meantime, they have very limited options including living in tents that are not warm, dry, or secure- and THAT’s cruel.

Building tiny homes is a relatively inexpensive, scalable, and achievable solution to get our homeless neighbors off the ground, out of the tents, and into a secure space until permanent affordable housing can be obtained.

side-by-side photo showing tiny homes for the homeless as a solution to homelessness vs. a tent encampment in Seattle's SODO neighborhood

My company, social, church, or other group is looking for a group volunteer day. Can my group build tiny homes for the homeless?

Absolutely!  Building a tiny home is a really meaningful way for your team to come together to make a local impact.  We accept groups of up to 10 people (12 in a pinch) at a time and have hosted groups from Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing at one end of the company scale, and local real estate offices, churches, small law firms, and even scout troops at the other.

Your group will start with a short tour of our facility, called The Hope Factory.  Then, depending on the work flow of the day, you could be building on a tiny home for much of the day.  As part of your experience, you will learn about the human side of homelessness and how tiny homes make an impact as part of the solution.  We do require advance bookings for groups.  We plan our group availability up to three months in advance, and the dates fill up quickly.  To ask about availability, please email soundfoundationsnw@gmail.com.

I’d like to volunteer to build a tiny home for the homeless, can I bring my kids?

We welcome anyone 16 and older.  For safety reasons, we can’t allow those younger than 16.

high school interns at sound foundations nw, a non-profit builder of tiny houses for the homeless as a solution to homelessness
Bellevue Big Picture School high-school-aged interns in Fall, 2023

Is there hope to solve homelessness?

Absolutely!  Homeless Is Solvable if you believe it is and if you have a plan for doing so.

Please donate your time or money to this very achievable goal!

I’m homeless, how do I get a tiny home?

First of all, we’re so sorry for what you’re going through.  Unfortunately, we don’t offer tiny homes directly, or services like housing placement.  However, you can access services for the homeless by calling 2-1-1 on any phone or by going to the City of Seattle’s HOPE Team website: https://www.seattle.gov/human-services/reports-and-data/addressing-homelessness/hope-team

graphic linking to the seattle HOPE Team, a city referrer of services including shelter for the homeless

You can also find the service providers who do manage the local emergency shelter system, including local tiny home villages, here: https://www.lihihousing.org/temporary-shelter.

Is homelessness solvable?

Yes!  We have a plan to get to Functional Zero, meaning more folks exiting homelessness than entering, IN JUST OVER TWO MORE YEARS AND FOR LESS THAN THE COST OF SWEEPS!  This plan requires roughly 400 more homes, in nine new villages, by the end of 2025. 

The median stay in a tiny home village is currently about four months.  Over time and with the new villages, we can give every homeless neighbor in King County who wants one, a roof over their head, a lock on their door, food in their stomachs, and wraparound services to get them to the next part of their lives.  In other words, HOMELESSNESS IS SOLVABLE! 

How many tiny homes for the homeless are there in Seattle?

As of Fall, 2023, there are 21 tiny home villages mostly in King County as well as a few in neighboring counties.  On average, there are 35-40 tiny homes per village, meaning there are approximately 725 tiny homes currently operating around Puget Sound.

tiny homes for the homeless shown in the snow at Camp Second Chance in seattle, tiny homes are a temporary solution to homelessness

Have a question you don’t see the answer to? Shoot us an email and we’ll gladly send you an answer. We might even add it to this FAQ page!