Tiny house project seeks big donation

Members of a South Whidbey nonprofit group are hoping their small houses will fill a large need. But the group’s effort to build six affordable tiny houses in Langley has hit another obstacle and the group needs to raise significant funding before permitting can begin.

Because of Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding impermeable surfaces, Tiny Houses in the Name of Christ, called THINC, needs to purchase an adjacent property to the one it already owns, according to founder Coyla Shepard.

The nonprofit needs to raise $195,000 to bring its total up sufficiently to secure the piece of land on the corner of Camano Avenue and Edgecliff Drive.

The organization, formed by members of several churches, has already surmounted its fair share of hurdles since forming in 2017. In 2018, it found and purchased a property in Langley city limits, the only place on the South End where the property could get the necessary hookups to sewer and water.

Through donations and volunteerism, the members restored the once-dilapidated house that came with the property and moved a low-income family into the upstairs unit in April. The work included new roofing, insulation, sheet rock, replacing counters and installing appliances.

There’s also been a significant transformation to the downstairs portion of the house, which will serve as a community area for the tiny house residents and an apartment for the on-site manager, Shepard said.

The newest challenge came about when the city adopted updated EPA drainage regulations that no longer recognized the planned gravel parking area as a “permeable” surface, which means the group could build fewer houses than it had originally planned to.

The next-door parcel has plenty of open space, and Shepard said it would be open to the public as a natural park. If a donor stepped up to help secure the property, she said, the group would likely name the park after that donor if the person wanted to “leave a lasting legacy.”

Shepard hopes to start the permitting process by January. The plan is to build 220-square-foot homes that would be rented out on a sliding scale depending on the renters’ income. Shepard and many of the organization’s other board members have spent a significant amount of time helping low-income or homeless families. Her experience is that people’s hearts break when they hear the stories of hardship, but many feel hopeless to help make the situation better, she said.

She hopes her nonprofit’s model will be replicated elsewhere in the county or state as one of the solutions to address a growing problem.

Since she’s gotten involved in trying to get the tiny house community built, she’s been approached by numerous people who are interested in living there, she said. They include people whose rent has been raised beyond what they can pay or whose landlord decided to transition the unit to a vacation rental, she said.

“All the time, people are coming up to me now,” Shepard said. “(They say) ‘how much longer before we get these tiny houses?’”

To learn more, contact Coyla Shepard at 360-969-9444. Donations may be sent to THINC, P.O. Box 974, Langley, WA 98260.