WHAT IS THE BLOCK PROJECT?
People living unsheltered often feel unseen and alone; as if there was an invisible wall between them and those living inside. This separation perpetuates homelessness and the negative stereotype surrounding those experiencing it. Facing Homelessness offers easy entry points for the community to come closer and get involved, beginning with an invitation to act on our empathy and Just Say Hello. Our newest initiative, the BLOCK Project, invites homeowners to host a BLOCK Home—a fully equipped, 125 square foot, environmentally sustainable home—in their backyard for a neighbor living on the streets. As one of the only integrated solutions to homelessness in the nation, the BLOCK Project builds compassion and capacity for other needed solutions. The closer we come, the more we feel. The more we feel, the more we act.
IS THERE REALLY A NEED FOR YET ANOTHER SOCIAL PROGRAM TO ASSIST PEOPLE OFF THE STREETS?
Homelessness is among the most urgent social crises of our time. And while it’s true that there are many organizations and programs working to meet the growing need, it’s not enough. We believe that we will never end homelessness by pointing our fingers and waiting for someone else to solve it: government, nonprofits, religious institutions. We believe we will only end homelessness when each of us gets involved. When we open our lives in big and small ways to the most vulnerable among us. The BLOCK Project provides a tangible solution that is also an invitation to come closer and to open our hearts. By doing this, it uniquely builds our collective compassion and capacity for all of the needed solutions.
HOW IS THE BLOCK PROJECT FROM DIFFERENT OTHER PROJECTS ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS:
Community Support and involvement are what make the BLOCK Project unique. In our experience, when people are invited to help, they eagerly become a part of the solution. More than 100 Seattle homeowners have volunteered to have a BLOCK Home in their backyard, and we have not yet made a formal ask of the community.
More than 300 community volunteers stepped forward to help build the pilot BLOCK Home in 2017, and hundreds more have expressed interest in assisting with future construction. Additionally, the community has already donated funds to build 13 BLOCK Homes using an innovative peer-to-peer model. Facing Homelessness has earned the trust of the community over the past five years and is positioned to successfully integrate the BLOCK Project within the City of Seattle.
ARE THESE HOMES LEGAL IN SEATTLE?
Yes! BLOCK Homes are permitted, off-grid structures that are classified as Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs). Per the Seattle Municipal Code, single-family lots with a minimum of 4,000 square feet can accommodate a DADU up to 800 square feet. Allen Law Group, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, and former Assistant City Attorney Suzanne Skinner have developed contracts to define the legal rights and responsibilities of all parties involved.
HOW ARE YOU GOING TO CONVINCE HOMEOWNERS TO DO THIS? WHAT INCENTIVE ARE YOU PROVIDING?
The BLOCK Project offers a concrete solution to the homelessness crisis in Seattle. It draws on the compassion of a community eager to exercise it. Since the introduction of the BLOCK Project, over 100 Seattle homeowners have come forward to host a BLOCK Home, literally in their own backyard. This response tells us that the incentive to homeowners is simply and profoundly knowing that they are a part of the solution.
The BLOCK Project has been compared to Airbnb and Uber in the way that it shifts the paradigm and invites us to rethink our use of personal space. We imagine a city where it's normal to think of residential backyards as platforms for social justice.
Importantly, the BLOCK Project is designed to prevent, reduce, and eliminate any “burden” to the homeowner. Additionally, case managers are engaged to provide social and mental health services, allowing the homeowner to simply act as a compassionate friend to their new neighbor.
HOW MANY BLOCK HOMES DO YOU PLAN TO BUILD?
Our vision is to build a BLOCK Home on every residential BLOCK in the City of Seattle. Throughout the 3-year pilot (2017-2019), the BLOCK Project will test and refine the model, while doubling BLOCK Home production year-over-year.
WHAT IF A HOMEOWNER DECIDES TO MOVE?
Hosts are encouraged to think of the BLOCK Home as a permanent fixture in their yard and lives. We know that extenuating circumstances and major life changes can arise unexpectedly, and the lease accounts for such times. If a Host can no longer host a BLOCK Home, the BLOCK Home will be removed, and placed in a new prospective Host’s backyard.
HOW ARE RESIDENTS SELECTED AND SCREENED?
We work with service providers, such as. Case managers from social service providers like Mary’s Place, Community Psychiatric Clinic, and Chief Seattle Club refer clients to the BLOCK Project and help them select a compatible Host based on transparent Host and Resident profiles.
WILL NEIGHBORS WHERE BLOCK HOMES ARE LOCATED BE SUBJECTED TO INCREASED CRIME, DRUG USE, AND LOITERING?
We partner with social services agencies to ensure that the referred Residents will thrive in our BLOCK Homes. Referrals are made when these experienced, locally based social service agents are confident the Resident can adhere to our code of conduct and the Lease Agreement. The agreements have been put in place to ensure the safety of everyone in the neighborhood.
BLOCK Homes are for individuals ready to begin their healing process in the embrace of community. Although we cannot predict future outcomes, we are confident that BLOCK Homes will actually decrease crime in neighborhoods. Reducing poverty, income inequality, and segregation in communities have all been linked to the reduction of criminal activity.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE IF CRIME RATES, DRUG USE, OR LOITERING INCREASE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD?
BLOCK Hosts and Residents enter into a Code of Conduct that defines respectful conduct and sets expectations around guests, cleanliness, noise, security, etc. Residents must comply with this Code of Conduct, as well as their Lease Agreement, in order to reside in their BLOCK Home. Facing Homelessness works with each Resident’s case manager to ensure these agreements are upheld. Importantly, we believe we all live better when we feel loved. While we know there will be challenges (as there always are in human relationships), we do not anticipate systemic increases in neighborhood crime or undesirable behaviors.
HOW CAN I BE ASSURED THAT I AM SAFE IF A SUCH A HOME IS BUILT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD?
We work with experienced, locally based and deeply community rooted social services agencies like Mary’s Place, Community Psychiatric Clinic, and Chief Seattle Club. Case managers refer their clients to the Block Project and help match Hosts and Residents based on their respective profiles.
We believe that the best way to create comfort and safety is to get involved! When each of us uses our strengths, passions, and interests to improve our community, we can end the social injustice of homelessness. Whether you help build a BLOCK Home or prepare a meal for your new neighbor, we know that engaged communities experience lower crime rates and higher happiness rates.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF OPENING THE NEIGHBORHOOD TO A HOMELESS PERSON?
Homelessness is already a part of our neighborhoods and community. The BLOCK Project offers dignity and support to those formerly suffering on the streets, bringing added stability and equity to our communities. We are finding that blocks with BLOCK Homes become more connected through the process. The fear and stigma that drive the narrative around homelessness fall away as we come close and open our lives to those who have experienced it.
IS THERE INSURANCE? IF SO, WHO PAYS FOR IT?
Yes, insurance is required as part of the BLOCK Project. The homeowner carries and pays for Home Insurance. The BLOCK Project carries and pays for General Liability Insurance.
DO PROPERTY TAXES INCREASE WHEN YOU BUILD A BACKYARD COTTAGE? WHO PAYS FOR THAT?
Unlike ordinary construction that is built to stay in one place, BLOCK Homes are moveable personal property, owned by the BLOCK Project LLC. Because BLOCK Homes are not real property attached to the land, and because they are not owned by the homeowner, the homeowner’s property taxes are not impacted.
WILL THE RESALE OF THE HOST HOME BE DIFFICULT/IMPOSSIBLE AFTER THIS BLOCK HOME IS BUILT?
BLOCK Homes are designed to be easily deconstructed and moved. If a homeowner needs to sell their home and does not wish to do so with a BLOCK Home residing on their property, the home will be moved and the BLOCK resident will be relocated to another desirable property.
WHAT RIGHTS DOES THE RESIDENT HAVE TO PREVENT THE HOST FROM EVICTING THEM?
BLOCK residents are protected by national, state, and local landlord-tenant laws. Columbia Legal Services represented the first BLOCK resident in review and approval of the lease.
WHAT RIGHTS DOES THE HOST HAVE TO EVICT THE RESIDENT IN THE CASE OF DISPUTE?
The resident lease agreement is between the resident and the BLOCK Project LLC. The resident lease clearly defines terminable activities, which include, among others: abandonment; failure to comply with program requirements, criminal activity, possession of illegal drugs, and/or activity that threatens the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the property by the Host or others in the neighborhood.
IS THIS MODEL ONLY FEASIBLE IN A METROPOLITAN NEIGHBORHOOD?
The BLOCK Project is a community building project. We believe that as a city and a society we end homelessness when every member of the community is engaged in the solution. The BLOCK Project is designed to integrate people who have been living outside within a supportive community on every block in the city. The BLOCK Home is just one component of what is needed for someone to transition out of homelessness. In order to thrive, we all need community and access to resources and the density of a metropolitan area makes both of these things possible. We also believe that there is more than one way to end the homelessness crisis when community comes together to be a part of the solution and the BLOCK Project is one approach.
IS THIS PROGRAM PROMOTING A LEARNED SENSE OF HELPLESSNESS? SHOULDN’T WE INSTEAD FORCE THE HOMELESS TO EARN THEIR HOUSING AND BE SELF SUFFICIENT LIKE THE REST OF US?
We do not believe the BLOCK Project promotes a learned sense of helplessness. Rather, it provides a foundation to launch from. By prioritizing permanent housing, we create a platform from which people can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues.
IS THE BLOCK PROJECT PERMANENT OR TRANSITIONAL HOUSING?
The BLOCK Project is considered permanent housing because there is no predetermined end-date for the resident’s occupancy. Each resident’s journey and duration of residency will be uniquely suited to meet their needs and the needs of the property owner. Some residents will live the rest of their lives in their BLOCK Home (our first resident is 75!), while others will use it as a springboard to the next step.
WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE HOST AND THE RESIDENT?
Hosts and Residents are neighbors and friends first. Both parties agree upon a customized code of conduct based on their specific needs and preferences. And, both Hosts and Residents enter into contractual agreements with Facing Homelessness.
WHO OWNS THE HOMES?
The BLOCK Project LLC retains ownership of the BLOCK Homes. The Host rents space on his or her lot to the BLOCK Project LLC, which places the home and sublets the space to a Resident.
DO RESIDENTS PAY RENT?
Residents do not currently pay rent. We anticipate that when we do begin to accept rent, residents will pay on a sliding scale, based on income and length of residency. Rent paid to Facing Homelessness will support the construction of additional BLOCK Homes and cover maintenance costs of existing BLOCK Homes.
I HEARD BLOCK HOMES COST $35,000, BUT I KNOW THAT SOME TINY HOMES ARE AROUND $2,000. WHY ARE BLOCK HOMES SO EXPENSIVE?
Building materials, permits, insurance, and taxes cost approximately $35,000 per BLOCK Home and construction labor is donated by general contractors, subcontractors, and community volunteers. This makes The BLOCK Project one of the most affordable permanent housing solutions on the West Coast (the average cost to build low-income public housing is more than $300,000 per unit!). For us, it’s important to distinguish between emergency shelter which can be built very cheaply, and dignified, permanent housing.
HOW ARE BLOCK HOMES FUNDED?
We fund BLOCK Homes just like we build them -- one by one, and with the support of community. In our current fundraising model, construction labor is 100% donated by general and subcontractors. Support for project management and community engagement comes from other funding sources. Please take a look at our open campaigns and donate! Or, contact us to sponsor your very own BLOCK Home.
ARE DONATIONS TAX DEDUCTIBLE?
Yes! All donations can be made to Facing Homelessness, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. EIN #: 46-2376967
WHO PAYS FOR THE POWER? GARBAGE? OTHER UTILITIES?
BLOCK Hosts are currently covering the cost of the resident’s water usage, which costs approximately 30 cents per day. The Resident shares garbage, recycling, and compost pick-up with the Host, and the Host typically volunteers to cover the expense.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE LIVING BUILDING CHALLENGE CERTIFIED?
Our goal is for BLOCK Homes to be Living Building Challenge Certified which is the most rigorous benchmark for sustainability in our built environment. The buildings "give more than they take”, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them." The certification program is run by the International Living Future Institute and is broken down into seven "petals": Energy, Water, Materials, Place, Health & Happiness, Equity, and Beauty. More information can be found at https://living-future.org/lbc/.
HAS THIS MODEL BEEN DONE BEFORE?
Not to our knowledge! The BLOCK Project is an unprecedented model, powered wholly by the compassion of community and altruism of individuals. It is a grassroots, integrated, dignified, sustainable solution to homelessness.