Living small

Barron City Council has approved a new ordinance for defining “tiny homes,” such as this one (pictured) at Foursquare Church, 916 E. Division Ave. Photo by Ryan Urban

The City of Barron has set a framework in place for transitional housing—or what are often referred to as tiny homes.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, the City Council approved an ordinance to allow “transitional housing as a conditional use.”

The action was spurred by a proposal from Homes of Hope Barron County, a program made in partnership with Benjamin’s House Emergency Shelter and Community Connections to Prosperity.

“Homes of Hope is really excited for the next step with the transitional tiny homes in Barron,” said Lori Zahrbock, executive director of Benjamin’s House.

The shelter is planning to use temporary tiny homes, such as one to be established at Foursquare Church in Barron, as a transitional step for Benjamin’s House residents between the shelter and permanent housing.

“With the approval of the special use ordinance, we will now be moving forward to finish furnishing the home, working with Foursquare to educate the neighborhood, and eventually moving in our first resident,” said Zahrbock.

“It’s going to be a trial run for everybody involved,” said Foursquare pastor Chad Halvorson.

Halvorson said there is a tendency to see homelessness as a “big city problem,” but he has taken several calls in regard to people with housing issues.

“I see the need,” he said. “We have a church body that understands the idea. We’re willing to provide mentoring, encouragement, support and the other things that go along with helping people get back on their feet.”

After several months of discussions among city officials, the new ordinance spells out what is and is not permitted as a transitional home.

Such a home must be no larger than 900 square feet and must be “for emergency use, on a temporary basis, to be occupied for no longer than 12 months.”

Temporary structures, camping units, travel trailers and motorhomes do not qualify for the special use permit. No more than two such homes per property will be permitted, and storage of livestock or materials, like scrap and waste for example, will not be allowed.

Permits are issued on a case-by-case basis. Criteria to be considered for the conditional use includes: responsible party or parties, terms of the occupancy agreement between parties, site plan, aesthetics of housing unit and description of housing unit.

“The collaboration with the city shows the concern and understanding that the Barron community has for those suffering from homelessness and how we can all work together to help those in need,” said Zahrbock.

At previous City meetings, Zahrbock said there would be an evaluation every seven days on whether or not someone would continue to be sheltered in the tiny home, depending on their employment and adherence to other rules.

Zahrbock said the tiny home idea is fashioned after Hope Village in Chippewa Falls, which has seen nine tiny homes developed over the past 5 years. Tiny homes have also been established in Eau Claire and Menomonie.

Restrooms and showers for Foursquare tiny home residents would be available at either the church or Barron Area Community Center a few blocks away. The home itself is outfitted with a bunk bed, microwave, small fridge, table, chair, heater and chemical toilet.

Homes of Hope Barron County is still seeking donations of items for the home including twin mattresses, dorm size fridge, microwave, curtains, and a 5x7 rug. Those interested in donating can contact Zahrbock at Benjamin’s House 715-736-2437. Updates will be posted at Facebook.com/HomesOfHopeBarronCounty.