Issue Briefing: Sacred Communities/Micro Units Dwellings  

SF 1145 (Housley)

The short version

This bill would allow churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship to create  sacred communities of tiny homes on their property for persons experiencing chronic  homelessness. The bill would allow faith communities to use a model developed by the  nonprofit Settled using research from the University of Minnesota. The model creates small  sacred communities for these individuals alongside people intentionally choosing to leave their  current housing. The dwellings are not fully plumbed, but full bathrooms, showers, laundry and  kitchen are available in the common house. These communities of tiny homes require no  government funding.

The long version 

Many discussions around homelessness focus on the policy of "housing first," stressing the  importance of getting an individual a place to stay and then working on other issues. The  Settled model, coming out of research from the University of Minnesota, recognizes that these  individuals have often experienced significant trauma and need healing; it is based on a  community first model, inviting people into a loving, supportive community. The residents  are offered a permanent home – many for the first time - so long as they pay nominal rent and  follow the rules set out in the “good neighbor” agreement.

A key component of the model are volunteers called missionals - people choosing to moving  out of their home or apartment to intentionally live in community with those who have been  chronically homeless.

Each of the micro units (tiny house) can be built on site at any faith community that wants to be  part of the project and then moved to a church or other place of worship that is creating one of  these settlements. However, this creates a problem under current Minnesota law. Any vehicle  on wheels is considered a recreational vehicle (RV) under Minnesota law. These are not

permitted to be used for permanent housing. This bill clarifies that this model can be used for  housing for this purpose and allows places of worship to create these communities provided  they meet the requirements of the bill.

These units have a dry or compostable toilet and a gravity fed water with a catch basin. They  are constructed using the same materials (including insulation) as residential housing. We  have worked with both the Department of Labor and Industry and the League of Minnesota  Cities on building standards and issues of inspection.

The League of Minnesota Cities wants the bill to include a provision that cities can decide  whether their local church, synagogue or other place of worship may create these sacred  communities – a municipal version of “not in my backyard.” This would be a great infringement  on religious freedom; faith communities must have the ability to move forward if they are  called to do this work.

The Star Tribune carried an excellent opinion piece on this model, written by Thomas Fisher,  head of the School of Design, the University of Minnesota. You can read it here (October 16,  2021): Tiny houses could aid homeless - StarTribune.com

You can see a short story by WCCO TV showing the houses and introducing a missional here:  East Metro Collective Builds Tiny House Community For People Experiencing Homelessness – WCCO | CBS Minnesota (cbslocal.com)

Key points 

  • Very few housing solutions provide options for those who experiencing chronic  homelessness. This one does.
  • This model is based on building community and has no government cost. o Because of the history of trauma and mental health issues of many of the people in  these sacred communities, they need a third or 40% of residents to be people coming  from stability.
  • Churches and other places of worship must be able to answer their call to help the  homeless in whatever way they discern – the bill can’t include provisions in which a city can decide whether a faith community can move forward.
  • We also need significant funds in a bonding bill for emergency shelter across Minnesota.  80 of Minnesota’s 87 counties lack adequate shelter beds.