Tiny-house village no longer slated for Ohmega site; lot will be sold instead

Youth Spirit Artworks will look for a new site for its tiny houses for homeless youth, after the Ohmega owner decided to sell the lot instead of renting it to the organization.

Youth Spirit Artworks will need to find a new location for its village of tiny houses, like the prototype pictured here. Photo: Courtesy YSA

South Berkeley’s Youth Spirit Artworks will search for a new location for its “tiny house village,” after the owner of the San Pablo Avenue lot it had been planning to rent, Katherine Davis, decided to sell the property instead.

Sally Hindman, YSA director, said her nonprofit does not plan to buy the Ohmega Salvage lot at 2403 and 2407 San Pablo.

“After months of work by Youth Spirit leaders and over a dozen amazingly generous professionals volunteering their time, we have an utterly viable model Youth Tiny House Village project that can readily be implemented helping transform youth lives,” Hindman wrote in an email to Berkeleyside. “We will lose no time seeking to identify another site for the project. We ask Berkeley City Council to step up.”

Berkeleyside reported in April that YSA had plans to build 25 tiny homes at the Ohmega site on the eastern side of San Pablo — the business has another space on the western side — with and for the homeless and low-income youth the organization serves. The nonprofit has worked on the project for around two years, partnering with academic, religious and community groups and businesses to draw the designs and assemble volunteer building teams.

Under YSA’s plans, the young people would live at the site with two resident advisors, participate in a job training program and have access to social workers.

In April, Hindman said the project would provide “safe, supportive housing for our community’s youth” amid a homelessness crisis. Tiny houses have been lauded by some as an efficient, cheap way to get people off the streets.

Ohmega’s salvage yard was previously split between the lot in question and the site across the street. The business has consolidated, moving everything to the western lot.

Owner Katherine Davis told Berkeleyside on Wednesday that she had decided to put the property on the market, but did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on her decision.

The tiny-house project was discussed at length at the April 24 Berkeley City Council meeting, where YSA asked the council to waive the typical fees and requirements for the project. Ultimately, the council determined that YSA would need to go through the standard permit application and review process, but directed city staff to “identify the most appropriate and expeditious path for this unique and important project.”

Hindman told Berkeleyside that YSA members were disappointed the City Council “did absolutely NOTHING to support this extremely badly needed privately funded effort.” She said there should be strong support for every opportunity to house particularly African American youth in Berkeley, where rent is unaffordable and the black population has plummeted .

YSA and partners had drawn up plans for 25 tiny houses at the Ohmega Salvage site. Rendering: Dan Edleson/University of San Francisco

Hindman had also said in April that the tiny-house project would be eligible for by-right approval, meaning it would be exempt from the typical permitting processes, because the homes would be on wheels and because the city’s emergency shelter rules might be invoked.

City staff said at the meeting that more research, as well as a safety analysis, was needed before determining what rules the project could be subjected to or not. The emergency shelter status could also require shorter periods of habitation in the tiny houses than had been planned.

At that meeting, Hindman told the City Council that YSA planned to begin building in July and move the first residents in before the new school year began.

Attendees of a reportedly contentious community meeting held by YSA, with Councilwoman Cheryl Davila, city staff and Davis, last week, said many neighbors who came were angry they hadn’t been notified about the proposed project earlier.

Hindman and Davis had not confirmed the plans to Berkeleyside when the April article was published, shortly before the City Council meeting on the project, saying they had planned to wait until they had more assurances from the city and details in place before announcing it to neighbors. Hindman said she believed premature publicity “sabotaged” the project.

At the council meeting, Hindman said she had been “so moved and grateful” to find a site in Berkeley.

“We really wanted to do our project in Berkeley because we’re a Berkeley-based group…many of us are longtime residents of Berkeley,” she said. “We ought to be able to come up with something really fantastic in Berkeley to solve our serious community problems.”

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. She was previously a reporter for Berkeleyside. Email: natalie@oaklandside.org. Twitter: .