Could tiny houses solve a big problem in Denver?

Could tiny houses solve a big problem in Denver?

In his Construction Management classroom, surrounded by his students' papers, Frank Sturgell reads his e-mails. He looks every bit the professor: He's wearing crisply pleated pants, a starched, cream-colored shirt and a slightly dated white preppie cardigan; the ring of hair surrounding his otherwise bald head is perfectly groomed, and his sunburned face is shaved. A few times a week, he teaches at this for-profit, strip-mall college that promises students it's a place where they can succeed. He does not want the college named, because the administration does not know that Sturgell has been homeless since 2009.

Most days he drives around Denver looking for a shower, a free meal and wi-fi, and most nights he sleeps in his car in Walmart parking lots.

He owes $90,000 in student loans for a University of Colorado Denver master's degree in architecture. His higher education has netted him little more than this part-time teaching gig, which doesn't pay enough to cover the cheapest apartment in the city's bloated market.

Marcus Hyde at work on his tiny house.
Jim J. Narcy
Marcus Hyde at work on his tiny house.

Years ago, he had a six-figure salary in San Francisco, a house and a condo, but then he lost his job. Before he could sell the condo, a pipe burst, the place molded and its value plummeted. He sold it all and moved to Denver, where he tried to get a license as an architect and Class A contractor. Tangled in Department of Regulatory Agencies rules and regulations, he failed the licensing exam.

He blames DORA. He blames Governor John Hickenlooper. He blames Mayor Michael Hancock. Now he's training himself to be a lawyer so that he can sue them all.

But when he's not itemizing the vast conspiracy against him, he looks forward to the day when he can take a shower, cook a meal and lie down to rest in his own tiny house.

Across the country, the tiny-house movement is exploding. What started as a small-is-better fad in the late '90s has become an almost mainstream movement as middle-class adventurers and homeless advocates alike have come to see utopian possibilities in these small structures.

Businesses such as Tumbleweed Tiny House Company, books and movies such as Dee Williams's The Big Tiny: A Build-It-Myself Memoir and Tiny: A Story About Living Small, and blogs like Tiny r(E)volution have flooded the market with plans, stories and products.

The houses can be anywhere from 50 to 900 square feet and are billed as an affordable, ecologically friendly alternative to America's supersized McMansion culture, which is built on a bedrock of debt.

Most tiny houses have lofts to sleep in, operational kitchens, bathrooms with tubs or showers, and an impressive array of dual-purpose accoutrements: couches that turn into beds, seating that functions as storage, and tables and chairs that fold up into the walls. While more ecologically minded tiny homes use solar energy, composting toilets and greywater systems, others plug directly into the grid and rely on city plumbing.

Tiny houses in rural areas face fewer regulations than those in cities, where zoning codes limit the construction of accessory dwelling units. To skirt the rules, around ten years ago people began constructing tiny houses on top of trailers so that they would fall under the same guidelines as RVs, which often operate under more relaxed rules.

In Denver, the maximum allowed length for an RV is 22 feet, and it can be parked on an "improved surface" on private property. But the city bans anyone from living in an RV, and people who break that rule often encounter the same hassles as do homeless people who sleep in their cars: tickets, harassment, and orders to pack up and move on.

Despite dodging the slings and arrows of a truly outrageous fortune, Frank Sturgell has a glass-half-full attitude, which he took to Denver Homeless Out Loud, an activist organization that emerged from Occupy Denver. DHOL "works with and for people who experience homelessness, to solve the issues that arise from the experience of homelessness," according to its website. "We work to help protect and advocate for dignity, rights and choices for people experiencing homelessness."

In 2012, DHOL embarked on a year-long research project documenting 500 homeless people's experiences with the city's urban-camping ban, enacted two years ago this month. After finishing that report, in April 2013, DHOL shifted its energy toward other projects, including forming a Tiny Homes Committee to encourage construction of the small abodes. Sturgell was thrilled. He saw a future in the tiny-house movement: his own.

Because DHOL operates as a non-hierarchical collective, it doesn't have the organizational resources of many nonprofits. For example, it has no established rules about who is eligible to receive tiny homes or a timeline for building them. Instead, organizers are optimistic that resources will work themselves out. Tiny-house encampments, such as Dignity Village in Portland, are showing the way for Denver, says Therese Howard, a DHOL member.

But tiny homes are only one of DHOL's many projects. Members create a newspaper by and for homeless people. They are organizing urban rest stops where people can use the restroom and take a shower. They've been advocating for a Colorado homeless bill of rights. Their energies have been divided.

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33 comments
tapdancintgirl
tapdancintgirl

Tiny houses...on wheels....what a brilliant concept! I think they call these RV's.


The used market is rift with liveable camper vans for under $5000. I paid $3500 for one some years ago and lived in it successfully for over 10 years. I had a stove, 3 way frig, stanless steel sink and a porta potti. It could sleep 6 in a push and if you were discrete could park it anywhere. For showers I got a pass to the Denver recreation centers (<,$200) and used their showers. This is totally doable although perhaps not as "Ironic" as as small house.

ige68
ige68

More shining examples from Westword of the lazy, worthless people we have in our society.  As if the boystown article wasn't enough to make me lose more faith in humans, we have an article on a decent concept, small homes (although I don't agree on the giving them to the homeless, but if a church or private organization chooses to do so, that's their business.  I think they should go towards the people that are working and trying to get their life on track but are struggling financially because of low wages, life improvement loans, recent job loss, etc) being ruined by a bunch of folks on the entitlement wagon. 

First example, Sturgell.

"Tangled in Department of Regulatory Agencies rules and regulations, he failed the licensing exam.

He blames DORA. He blames Governor John Hickenlooper. He blames Mayor Michael Hancock. Now he's training himself to be a lawyer so that he can sue them all.


But when he's not itemizing the vast conspiracy against him, he looks forward to the day when he can take a shower, cook a meal and lie down to rest in his own tiny house."



So he failed and he blames everyone else?  And, yes, sue them.  That's the answer.  Everyone loves a lawyer.  Why not get another job while you try to get your licenses?  Work will get you a home, shower and meal.  Heck, even the useless putzes at boystown have a place to live and you know they're not working highfaluting gigs in the corporate world.

"He purchased a planer, a nail gun and other assorted gear, but had nowhere to store them but in his car."

If he doesn't want to get another job so he can afford an apartment or house, has he heard of storage units?  My ex boyfriend lives in his car at a walmart and has a crappy $10/hr job, but he can afford two storage units for his crap.  And he's paying child support on top of all that, so I know it can be done.

Example two, Murphy

"When I left, there were older black people, crackheads, gang members and lots of salt-of-the-earth, working-class people," she recalls. "I came back to a changed community." 

Yes, because crackheads and gang members are so much better than gentrification.

"We can build the Clyfford Still Museum for a dead white guy who has nothing to do with here, but we can't support our artists"

Maybe no one likes your art.  Maybe you need to get a different profession.  One that can pay your bills.

Even Hyde, who began coming off as the only sane person in your article blew it when he said he didn't want churches to push their religion on the people, but he wanted their land and money to build the homes.

Now let's move on to Rost-Rothman, who built a dwelling without any permits from the city...not new that you need permits to do stuff.  If not, it's built illegally and you will be fined.  Welcome to the way things have been for a long time.

"Rost-Rothman has an idea: If Xcel temporarily disconnects a tangle of wires, the neighboring apartment trims its trees and a metal fence is taken down, she'll be able to get her tiny home off her lot and on the road. "

So now, she needs to get it out of there and she wants others to make it easy for her. 

When did people stop realizing that they have to work for things? 

SedonaSherpa
SedonaSherpa

You buy a Honda 600 and you will wish you got the 900 3 months later -


I am all for a small house - but when the concept is about small and not practical...then it's just a fad. If these homes were say 900 to 1500 sq ft that would make sense. You need to be able to SELL the house to someone else and that's reason alone to have some extra sq ft. All the initial expense of the foundation, utility connect and permits, adding some more sq footage is cheap and pays off in the long run.

anonymous
anonymous

"He blames DORA. He blames Governor John Hickenlooper. He blames Mayor Michael Hancock. Now he's training himself to be a lawyer so that he can sue them all."  With an attitude like that, blaming everyone but himself for his troubles, I suspect Frank Sturgell will be homeless for a long time and homelessness will probably be the least of his problems in life. 

fitzbim
fitzbim

The cost of living in general not just here but across the US is at the point of stupid.  Rent is too high to save a down payment.  The house probably cost way more than it is worth meaning a down payment that does not require mortgage insurance (20%) is unattainable by most so if and when they buy it's has that insurance payment tacked on, making it more expensive.  School whether for profit mall scam, or propaganda instilling state universities are inflated to a cost only the rich can afford otherwise it is a debt black hole.

And lets not forget how much gas and fuel have gone up in the last six years, or food in the last two years.  A cup of basic black coffee can go for 2.50 easily these days.

Shady motel stay with drug dealers?  That will cost you $60 a night.

Unless real jobs not this service sector crap come back it will only be downhill from here, where everyone is homeless in debt to their ears, no money for food or water.

I am forty, and when my parents generation went to college they had 2-3 companies competing to hire the graduate.  Now the companies have hundreds if not thousands of college grads competing for one job.

Between undeniable inflation in all markets, lack of jobs, and the dumbing down of our grads, there is only one way this ride will end.

bekkaalice
bekkaalice

Just as a side note, if you don't want people knowing something about you it is generally best not to appear quoted in a widely read newspaper (whether paper or actually online).  "Here's my name and area of expertise but if you don't list my school surely no one will recognize me" is almost as good as the girlfriend a week or so ago who is sure her boyfriend is under national surveillance so she isn't going to give her information - if he's really under national surveillance I'm pretty sure they already know her name.  I don't mind anyone being paranoid but I wish they'd be consistent.


verymrschievious1
verymrschievious1

The issue is what it is, regardless of how or why they became homeless and the point of this article was to draw light to a possible solution. So we can either sit around and throw rocks, which literally and figuratively does nothing to or for the homeless population and say hey screw them, don't help them, let them die, or we can look at a solution. Whatever happened to compassion? "The biggest communication problem is that we don't listen to understand. We listen to reply. "

verymrschievious1
verymrschievious1

Well, I personally am a very educated person. Actually graduated with a 4.0, as a Surgical Technician and work in Dermatology for Mohs Surgeon, who was Naval Flight Surgeon and personal Physician to George Bush. And I think you Mr . Halo are being quite judgemental. I'm by no means a liberal and don't vote because I'm wise enough to understand that corporate America is so truly controls or political system and while you might view the man in the story as lazy or thinks he's entitled, you are wrong in believing that homelessness is a result of a lack of drive or character. Much of the homeless population are veterans, some are severely mentally ill. There are any number of reasons a person could become homeless. The byproduct of what capitalism has become in the world, is that no matter what, a gross amount of the population will be poor regardless of education or drive or any of those factors. It could be any one of us. Many people are homeless right now because of how bad the economy was, due to the banks and their high risk loans they were selling. So, respectfully, get off your high horse, or high Halo. Things aren't always as they seem.

haloguy628
haloguy628

So this loser who apparently can only thrive in academia is going to sue everybody for his own incompetence? Good luck with that.


The decline of the United States is directly linked to this type of people. The product of liberal machine spitting out arrogant, self centered and entitled people who were told that everybody is a winner and that the government has responsibility for their well being. No matter how stupid, incompetent and lacking they are.

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@ige68 Spoken like the baby republican jeeeEEEeeeEEEzusssss.

ige68
ige68

@SedonaSherpa  i live in a 720 square foot home and while poorly laid out, it's the perfect size.  i even have a guest room for when friends come to visit us but it's small enough they don't want to wear out their welcome ;). 

fitzbim
fitzbim

@SedonaSherpa - Not everyone thinks of their home as a financial asset, and they are practical to those who don't just get a bunch of "stuff" and then fill an empty room with it just to say they have it.  How many people out there live in apartments and studios much smaller than what you propose and don't bat an eye at it?

aminabakerelu
aminabakerelu

@anonymous my friend's step-aunt makes $82 /hr on the laptop . She has been without a job for 9 months but last month her payment was $19335 just working on the laptop for a few hours. read the full info here..........................http://www.jobs23.com

ige68
ige68

@fitzbim you must be buying your coffee at starbucks.  try a truck stop.  found a cup for .10 at a gas station.

There are also a lot of people that don't want to work unless it's corporate and sorry, college kids should never qualify for that kind of a position.  They don't have the experience.  My company has been trying to hire people for two years in four different departments and our choices are between no applicants, people that make the grade, then don't show up, or those that don't care to work, just want to collect a paycheck.  


That said, you are correct about how out of control pricing is getting.  College costs a fortune because they are paying astronomical wages to some of the professors and coaches.  Homes are expensive in many places, but that's made worse with the pmi payments and hoa fees.  It's getting flat out ridiculous.


haloguy628
haloguy628

@verymrschievious1 Interesting post. Let me try to address some points you brought up.


First, if you don't vote, for what ever reason, then you can't complain about the conditions that exist in this country. You complain that the corporate interests have the system bought and therefore control majority of what's going on. There is some truth to it, but with your refusal to vote you are just capitulating to the powers that you despise. Not a very smart approach and certainly not a wise one.


Second. I am quite familiar with homelessness and the prevalence of it in the veteran community. What the mental health community does not want to talk about is the fact that there are three categories of homeless. 


There is the category where people encounter hardship conditions for what ever reason be it by their own doing or by unforeseen circumstances and become homeless. In this category majority will seek help and use that help to get back on their feet and re-integrate back into productive society. Veterans actually have a leg up because if they have Honorable or even General Discharge they can come to the nearest VA Medical Center that has homeless outreach program and medical care for free. In the outreach program they will get job referrals, vouchers for housing, clothes, toiletries and other help until they get back on their feet.


The second group is the long term homeless. It's here that you find severe mentally ill that should be hospitalized in long term mental health programs but unfortunately there are no such facilities anymore. These people sadly end up in and out of prisons and jails. If a veteran falls into this category then the VA will in many cases actually involuntarily admit and after initial stabilization and diagnosis provide help through the homeless outreach, substance abuse treatment and most likely PTSD program. If the veteran is mentally ill due to his/hers service disability claim is facilitated or if they served in period of officially recognized war or conflict and they do not have disability due to service they are eligible for non-service connected VA Pension.


Then there is the third group, which is numerically the biggest of the three. The ones that choose to be homeless. For somebody who really has no contact with the homeless this may sound far fetched, but it's reality. Many long term homeless drop out of society because they don't want the responsibilities of productive life. You have no bills, you don't have to wake up at 5AM and go to job, you don't pay rent and you don't have to conform to any rules. Many have substance abuse problems but are unwilling to get help. They are not helpless, they know where the soup kitchens are, what time they serve and where they can shelter overnight and what the rules are for getting in.


Third. Your rant about capitalism and banks is almost comical. I grew up in communist country. I have nightmares when I listen to you liberals waxing about social and economic equality, hatred for the "1%", the Koch brothers, racial discrimination and any other media matters talking points. I know that humans have need to belong and want to believe that they pursue goals that will contribute to the greater good. It's however very dangerous to buy wholesale into an ideology without any questions. Today the progressives and liberals use polarization to divide and conquer and don't bother anymore to hide this since we now have two generations that were brainwashed by the education system to depend on others and not think for themselves. Just like in the failed communist regimes. There always was a class enemy and all the failures or ineptitude were the result of this enemy who sabotaged the noble pursuits of the party. Sounds like Obama, Reid and Pelosi? Well it should because the Democrats have nothing else to show. They only have class envy and claims of pure intentions. Meantime the economy is still dead, unemployment among minorities is 11.5 percent and that's only counting the ones who are still looking for work while the participation rate is only 60.9%. The foreign policy lies in ruins all over the world, we have multitude of internal scandals but only thing we hear is "war on women", NBA owner is racist, the Koch brothers are stealing this country blind and myriad of other red herrings to keep attention away from the important things. That's what you really want?


In conclusion I am going to say that I see another parallel with the fallen communist regimes. Increasingly people with no tangible experience are elected into higher offices purely on ideology. That is a very dangerous trend because it attracts type of person who is power hungry but not able to amass power by any other means but politically. Usually these kinds of psychopaths may not even care much for that ideology but they are the most fervent proponents of it because it will elevate them to otherwise unattainable positions. Once they have the power there is no restraints because ethical or moral barriers are foreign to this type. I see it on both sides of the spectrum but I believe the liberals are more dangerous than the conservatives because of the fanatical belief that liberal purpose is to do "good". Think about it.


haloguy628

Combat Medical Badge

Military Free Fall Badge (H.A.L.O./H.A.H.O.) ;-)

BS in Health Care Management with minor in Human Services

muhutdafuga
muhutdafuga topcommenter

@haloguy628 How inconsistent your post (when you wrongly try to blame Liberalism of conservative failure) is with the fact that both the First Great Republican Depression and the Second Great Republican Depression happened following extended periods of virga down economic voodo and conservative rule.  Remember Herbert Hoover?  Remember Bush-lite?

mrmelanoma
mrmelanoma

@haloguy628 so this loser who apparently can only thrive on HALO is going to call some random person he doesn't know, who is teaching a college class incompetent and then spit out a bunch of privileged tea party rhetoric? Good luck with convincing anyone your not entitled.

fitzbim
fitzbim

@brady30 I would love a tiny home.  I am curious though, did you put yours on someone's property? Buy your own property? If so is it in the metro area or mountainous area?


I ask because everywhere I look wanting to buy land they require by law and zones that the house  be a certain size, which is bigger than what I want. And I want mine permanent not on wheels.

fitzbim
fitzbim

@ige68 What kind of positions is your company hiring for and what does it pay?

fitzbim
fitzbim

@ige68 @fitzbim - I don't buy coffee my wife works in a coffee shop. :) Gourmet all year long for free.

haloguy628
haloguy628

@mrmelanoma Hey cancer. First, I do thrive on H.A.L.O. and occasionally H.A.H.O. It keeps me invigorated, hones my reaction times and in great company of smart motivated adults. Most likely you are now lost and not getting what I just said, but that's OK as you are most likely one of the equivalents of that "homeless teacher". Vocal but clueless.


Second, let me educate you about the fact that there are myriads of great professors in the halls of higher education, but more importantly for you since you seem not to know that, is the fact that there are also a sizable numbers of cooks, losers, hippies, weirdos and assorted other not "standardized" creatures who are employed or contracted to teach. They usually can be found in community colleges and some even in Universities in the Ethnic or Women's studies departments. Looks like you never went to an institution of higher learning otherwise you would be aware of this basic fact.


So your assumptions are just that. Assumptions based on liberal brainwashing that you were exposed up to maybe high school as I doubt that you went any further than that. That brainwashing drilling over and over into young minds that self esteem is the only thing that one needs to succeed and that everybody's a winner. That attitude coupled with the lack of ability on your part to think analytically made you who you are. Just another loser with huge ego who blames everybody else for your failures and angry at the more successful people.


PS: I vote as an unaffiliated because I actually look at the issue being presented so I will vote for the best candidate regardless of party affiliation. I however have a nagging feeling that you are a staunch Democrat and vote appropriately. Like true low information voter.


Heve a nice day.

fitzbim
fitzbim

@mrmelanoma @haloguy628 He is not talking about the game, shame that is the only definition of HALO that you know.  A quick 2 second google search would of helped you look a whole lot more intelligent.

mrmelanoma
mrmelanoma

@haloguy628 @mrmelanoma baby gurl, don't hate so much. it don't look good on you. I thought you was the hot stuff, but you nothin but a grumpy turd

haloguy628
haloguy628

@mrmelanoma Hey cancer. Typical loser crestfallen answer, and sadly my prediction of you being lost after reading my post were confirmed as you are still assuming in regards to my activities. Classic.

mrmelanoma
mrmelanoma

@haloguy628 @mrmelanoma didn't mean to touch the sensitive button, buckorooskie. Yes, your right, hippies and democratic voters and people that study ethnic studies, or women's studies, everybody but the white guy playing halo and thinking it's "honing his reaction times" and keeping him in a "great company of motivated adults" - everyone but him is a loser and a liberal and blames everyone else and has a big ego and doesn't go to college. You are very very informed, and you speak truth without a filter, your almost as blunt and direct as fred phelps. thanks bucko. I'm also glad to know that your a successful guy i should look up to. your dreamy.

 
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