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SquareOne Villages is a 501(c)3 non-profit  organization        |        Tax ID # 46-0801991        |        CCB # 224446        |        © 2019 SquareOne Villages

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Village Model





The Village Model is a collaborative, community-based approach to the provision of accessible shelter and housing.  In this section, we outline some guiding principles, defining components, and key benefits of the village model. From there, we establish two primary types of villages—Transitional Villages and Affordable Villages—and offer a description of each to help in choosing a path that's right for your community. This all provides an overview to what we are talking about before getting into how to do it.




guiding values of the village model  ...


Everyone deserves a safe and stable place to call home. However, current practices and funding sources are inadequate to meet the overwhelming demand for affordable housing. The Village Model seeks a radically different solution for bridging the often insurmountable gap between the street and conventional housing options. By restoring a variety of simple, low-cost housing options, we can more adequately respond to people's diverse needs and desires.


Building small is the only practice that reduces both energy usage and material demand—resulting in lower capital, operating, and maintenance costs over the life of a home. Tiny homes are therefore a cost-effective means to create more housing opportunities with the limited resources available. Simple and modular construction techniques can minimize material cost and waste, and accommodate sweat equity and volunteer labor as part of the home building process. By reducing our overall environmental footprint, we can not only address the housing gap, but also put forth a vision for a more sustainable future.


The Village Model goes beyond building individual tiny houses. It emphasizes building communities that respect the autonomy of residents, within a democratic process where each person has a voice in shaping how their community is operated and managed. While each village may require varying levels of outside support depending on its clientele, resources, and goals, preserving opportunities for resident engagement and empowerment should be a primary objective. It is this aspect that creates a foundational sense of ownership on which the village thrives.


The Village Model emphasizes a collaboration between the housed and the unhoused or underserved. A village should be a local community-driven initiative that involves a multitude of—including schools, churches, service providers, professionals, city officials, and other concerned citizens and organizations. This kind of broad collaboration demonstrates what is possible when a community comes together around a common cause. By utilizing the existing resources around us, we can quickly create more housing opportunities for those in need.

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six components of a successful village ...



Individual homes of 400 square feet or less​


Shared facilities and resources to supplement tiny homes



Involvement of residents in decision making and management 



Residents meet as a community at least once a month


A basic code of conduct that all residents agree to abide by


An entity that provides ongoing administration, oversight, and support





why try the village model? ...

There are several advantages to following the Village Model—including economic, social, and environmental benefits.


In comparison to conventional housing options, it can be built and maintained more cost-effectively, it facilitates better connectedness amongst neighbors, and comes with a far lighter ecological footprint. This meets existing goals of many municipalities—such as providing accessible housing to all income levels, increasing neighborhood livability, and reducing carbon emissions.

The three points presented below provide more specific benefits of the Village Model. To our knowledge, these benefits have held true for any existing village that includes the six components listed above.

1. Cost-effective method to meet basic needs

The tiny house allows for simpler construction techniques when compared to an apartment building or single family house, without compromising quality or durability. Using fewer materials means lower construction and maintenance costs. For example, roofing a tiny house is a much more affordable and approachable task. And as a local community-driven initiative, the Village Model has a strong capacity to harness existing local resources like pro bono professional support, sweat equity, volunteer labor, and donated materials and land.

The smaller footprint of a tiny house, along with proper insulation, provides significantly lower structural operating costs. For example, it takes less energy to heat or cool a small space. In fact, a study by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality found that reducing the size of a home is the single most effective measure for reducing its impact on the environment. This is because a smaller-sized house is the only practice that reduces both energy usage and material demand. Operating costs are also lower with the Village Model, since it emphasizes cooperative resident management that reduces demand for staffing.

While some of the simplest, least expensive examples—such as Opportunity Village—offer living situations that are far from ideal by most standards, they still meet people's basic needs by offering stability, security, privacy, and the ability to stay warm and dry. And until housing is extended to all, this remains to be the responsible thing to do—both morally and fiscally. Failing to do so only results in indirect costs to our courts, hospitals, and jails that far exceed the cost of housing.

2. Preserves individual dignity and autonomy

Village residents have reported that living in a tiny house village makes them feel more independent. Unlike the traditional shelter model, each resident has a small place to call their own. This offers a stark contrast to homelessness, in which people are often forced to live their entire life in the public realm.

People experiencing homelessness are often stigmatized as lazy and dependent, which is ironic since their only legal option is typically a top-down shelter model that demands such dependency. The Village Model provides a viable alternative that promotes individual dignity, autonomy, and responsibility.

It balances both private and common spaces. The tiny houses are supplemented by shared facilities and resources; resulting in a living environment that encourages social engagement. This aspect is best embodied by the village meeting, in which residents come together to discuss issues of common interest. Residents have a voice in decision making and participate in the management of the community in which they live—an opportunity not even extended to your average renter. It's no surprise then that village residents have also reported that living in a tiny house village gives them a sense of belonging and community.

In this regard, the Village Model also offers a viable alternative to traditional low-income housing, which tends to result in social isolation amongst residents—where people are far less likely to know their neighbors. And when you don't know your neighbors, you're at greater risk of falling back into homelessness.


3. Positive impact on the surrounding community

Conventional wisdom tells us that low-cost shelter without extensive top-down management will result in an increase in crime and violence in the surrounding neighborhood. These fears are voiced virtually every time the Village Model is proposed in a public forum. But in fact, when the six components listed above are in place, these fears have proven to be unwarranted.  

Our research and experience has shown that when you give a group of people a sense of social ownership over the place in which they live, they have an interest in making it work—especially when they have nowhere else to go. Unlike in your typical landlord-tenant relationship, a village creates mutual accountability amongst neighbors.


A Community Agreement lays out a basic code of conduct that all residents must agree to abide by, and residents that fail to uphold those agreements can be evicted. Existing examples have shown that this is a duty that residents take very seriously—because they have an interest in creating a safe and healthy neighborhood, just like anyone else.

Finally, the Village Model provides the surrounding community with an example of a sustainable housing option—where people not constrained by income may be inspired to live in a smaller space. While this TOOLBOX focuses on applications in transitional and affordable housing, tiny house villages can be designed as market rate housing as well. In fact, combining the two provides opportunities for internally subsidizing the affordable housing.

Further Reading: "No link between homeless villages and crime rates, Guardian review suggests"



   Choosing a Path   

what type of village do you want to propose?...

In setting out to plan a village, you'll need to begin to define some basic parameters about the physical and social elements that will shape your proposal. We suggest starting with a fairly general concept as these initial decisions can be a challenge, and it's often difficult and confusing to change something you’ve already proposed. It's best to add more detail as things progress and as your group responds to feedback from the local community. 

In the table below, we compare and contrast two different types of villages—transitional and affordable. This information is not intended to be absolute. Instead, the purpose is to define a couple signposts along the spectrum between homelessness and conventional housing options; and to provide insight into some of the key decisions that need to be made along the way. 


Opportunity Village (transitional) and Emerald Village (affordable) provide a real world example of both types, developed by SquareOne Villages. A further description  of both types of villages is provided in greater detail below, with text adapted from Tent City Urbanism



   Transitional [ temporary ] Village   

a stepping stone to more permanent housing situations...



The Village Model provides each person with a small, private space within a community supported by shared, common spaces. It emphasizes local control and broad participation. But what is meant by a transitional village?


Transition is defined as the passage from one form, state, style or place to another. Therefore, the Transitional Village is not intended to be a final resting place, but a stepping-stone on which to stabilize one’s life before moving on to something else. But what exactly is that something else?

Traditionally, transitional housing is offered for a defined period of time, and is seen as a means to an end—getting the client to sign a lease for permanent housing. The housing type typically consists of several rooms within a larger residence. Clients are required to participate in formal support services involving addiction rehabilitation, psychological assistance, and job training. Funding is based upon success, which is measured by the ability to place the client into permanent housing.

The Transitional Village has a similar goal, but takes a less hyper-rational approach in getting there. It provides individuals with responsibility and ownership over one’s own space within a supportive community of people in a similar situation. It's founded on an ethos of self-management and democratic governance, with basic rules that residents must abide by in order to maintain residency.


It improves upon existing encampments by facilitating the progression from tents to simple micro-housing structures supported by shared facilities. Similar to dormitories or assisted living centers, this form of development can be thought of as a “congregate living facility.” Here, the micro-housing is designated as “sleeping units”—a space that can provide provisions for sleeping, living, eating, and either cooking or sanitation but not both—rather than “dwelling units”—which have more stringent requirements for being permanent, self-sufficient structures. Allowing for the sharing of functions can reduce permitting requirements, costs, and environmental impact.

The Transitional Village deploys temporary, transportable development. This could include tiny houses on trailers or pier blocks, which can be relocated to a new site if necessary. It's perfect for pilot projects, temporary uses, and short-term leases on publicly owned land.

A temporary site can ease the concerns of neighbors, and allow time for public input that should be taken into account when evaluating if the project and site will be renewed. The questionable future of the community can also encourage solidarity within, incentivizing residents to come together to make the project a success. On the other hand, it makes significant infrastructure investments impractical, and this "outside-the-box" form of development can be difficult to build political support for.

While formal on site services are not required under this model, partnerships can be developed with existing service providers, organizations, and institutions in your community. Since part of the intent is to be able to fund a housing alternative within the local community, it does not have to compete with other services for already thinly stretched state and federal dollars.


The Transitional Village does, however, require that each resident participate and contribute to the community in which they live. So, rather than help being handed down, the model emphasizes tolerance, peer support, horizontal organization, and a participatory culture to engage individuals experiencing homelessness. In addition, it provides a place for building social capital by facilitating relationships between the housed and the unhoused.



   Affordable [ permanent ] Village   

an accessible and sustainable place to transition to...



In addition to a growing unhoused population, many with housing are paying an unsustainably high percentage of their income for that right. More than half of all renters are now paying more than 30 percent of their income towards rent, meaning a significant number of working citizens are living just one unpredicted expense away from losing their housing. Further still, there is a growing demographic looking to simplify their lives, reduce their ecological impact, and strengthen social bonds with neighbors. All of this points to the need for alternative housing options beyond the apartment complex and single-family house.

The Affordable Village meets this demand by establishing a low-cost, low-impact housing model. It appeals to those without a home, those who could live a more stable life devoting less of their income to rent, those with a desire to consume and pollute less, and those wishing to avert the social isolation of conventional housing by living in a community rather than a commodity. It aligns with the trend in “Housing First” programs, but by continuing to build small, share resources, and utilize economically creative practices, it can reach more people for the dollar.

This differs from the Transitional Village in that it is intended to create the potential for longer-term housing opportunities; especially for those living on part-time or fixed incomes, unable to access market-rate housing.


The Affordable Village moves toward more permanent tiny house designs built on foundations, allowing for more square footage and features when compared to the Transitional Village model. The units are still supported by shared facilities, but with a lesser degree of dependence. For example, the tiny houses could each include a small bathroom and kitchenette, while being supported by common house that includes laundry facilities, a community kitchen for group meals, and a flexible use space for gatherings and everyday use.

But to make real change in housing,​ we must also think beyond the physical structure. The Affordable Village pairs well with shared-equity ownership models, such as community land trusts and limited equity cooperatives. Combining tiny homes with this type of ownership model ensures ongoing affordability and supports many of the benefits of homeownership with fewer risks.

The stability of the Affordable Village can improve the consistency and effectiveness of resident management. Here the organizational structure more close resembles a housing cooperative or cohousing. Community meetings are still a critical component, but may be less frequent than in the Transitional Village.

The Transitional Village is a useful asset to the Affordable Village in that it can serve more people by emphasizing a transitory mission. Whereas the Affordable Village is designed to have a more stable population, the Transitional Village has greater capacity to serve those without access to housing or a stable source of income. In addition, it can provide a useful vetting process for selecting residents that will be a good fit for an Affordable Village. In this sense, the Affordable Village offers both a step-up from the Transitional Village, and a step-down from housing that may be economically, socially, or environmentally unsustainable.