Baldwin Park’s tiny homes are part of a big vision to provide much-needed housing to the region

Apr 20, 2022

Last November, the city of Baldwin Park welcomed San Gabriel Valley’s first tiny home development, Esperanza Villa, building out a vision by city leadership to better support unhoused residents.

“We are on track to do something big. We are looking at how we not only help the people who are homeless, but how do we prevent more people from getting there,” said Mayor Emmanuel J. Estrada, who spearheaded the project’s development.

Quick, temporary housing connects residents with services and permanent housing 

Funded by regional grants and in partnership with local nonprofits and regional government associations, Esperanza Villa is comprised of 25 pallet shelters — small, durable buildings that can be easily assembled, cleaned, and moved. Each secure, climate-controlled unit has a bed, storage space, light, and an outlet for charging small electronic devices, such as a smartphone.

Operated by Volunteers of America Los Angeles, Esperanza Villa also includes restrooms and showers; laundry, meal, and security services; case management; internet; social and supportive services; and a pet area. The city of Baldwin Park and regional partners opened the temporary shelter in November 2021, providing vulnerable residents with permanent, supportive housing and services.

Making the project a reality required extensive collaboration. For example, the city-owned property needed Wi-Fi and water connections, which the public works department provided. The department also helped coordinate the deployment of other utilities and played a key role in designing Esperanza Villa’s aesthetics.

The parks and recreation department managed community input meetings and still helps with the referral process. The homes were constructed by the Pallet company, along with volunteers from Habitat for Humanity.

The team’s hard work paid off almost immediately. Esperanza Villa has already had a transformative impact on the city, its residents, and the San Gabriel Valley region. For example, it reduced the need for services in the area, including public safety calls, and was accompanied by small, crucial improvements to the surrounding infrastructure, such as resurfaced roads.

Most importantly, in February, a 76-year-old resident moved into permanent housing for the first time since 2014. Several other residents have transitioned into permanent supportive housing or are working with case managers to find an apartment unit.  

Esperanza Villa also serves as a model for other cities in the region, with many city officials turning to Estrada for advice for their own projects. Baldwin Park even held an overnight stay for San Gabriel Valley local officials to experience Esperanza Villa first-hand before replicating it in their cities.

“One of the [criticisms] we hear the most is … ‘They always bring the shelters to Baldwin Park,’” said Mayor Estrada. “And I say, ‘Wait a minute. Baldwin Park is setting an example for rich cities. We are at the forefront of this and these rich cities you are talking about are coming to Baldwin Park to see what we are doing and to take it back to their city.’”

The project also led to funding for a similar development in Baldwin Park, dubbed Tiny Homes 2.0, which is scheduled for completion this summer. Also funded by regional government grants, Tiny Homes 2.0 is aimed at families experiencing homelessness and will include additional services, such as a play area for children. 

New pathways to affordable homeownership and generational wealth

For Mayor Estrada and others, solving the homeless crisis is not just about getting people into shelters. It is about mitigating the factors that led them there. That is easier said than done in California, where rents and down payments continue to soar in every part of the state. In Baldwin Park, the average household income is $68,000 per year, but a family needs more than $100,000 to buy a home.

“The word affordability has been stretched wide and thin [in California]. Anything under market-rate is dubbed affordable,” said Mayor Estrada. “Moderate-rate is a nice word for just a couple of dollars off market-rate. [Families are] still undergoing rent increases and it doesn’t really give them the stability they need.”

However, without sustained funding from the state, cities need to get creative about how they encourage new housing projects. As such, Baldwin Park directed $5 million of its American Rescue Plan Act dollars to Habitat for Humanity for critical home repair, construction, and affordable homeownership.

“In order to get affordable housing, you have to get subsidies, or else it won’t work. It’s just impossible,” said Bryan Wong, executive director for the San Gabriel Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity. 

For Estrada and Wong, ensuring that Baldwin Park residents can stay in Baldwin Park is key to the city’s culture. “Everyone just keeps moving farther and farther away from where they grew up and it just changes the fabric of the communities because nobody can afford to live there,” said Wong.

Habitat for Humanity will use part of the money for critical home repair, which can play a key role in keeping financially precarious households stable. For example, although many senior citizens are homeowners, they often lack the money or support system needed to fix critical issues. In fact, many of Esperanza Villa’s residents are senior citizens who once had permanent housing.

Some of the money will also go to acquisition and rehab. Under this process, Habitat for Humanity acquires an existing home, repairs it, and sells it to a family at a below-market price. If the family decides to sell the house within 55-years, it goes back to Habitat for Humanity, which then refurbishes it again and sells it to a new family at a below-market rate. Meanwhile, the former tenants get their money back, which is usually enough for a down payment on a market-rate home.

The partnership with Habitat for Humanity is expected to help create 40 to 50 affordable homes, each of which will house several families throughout the program’s lifespan. Hopefully, they will also create enough financial stability that Baldwin Park families can stay in Baldwin Park for decades to come. 

“Rather than putting people in a position where they are forced to rent and are susceptible to rent increase and little by little they are forced out, we are putting them in a position where they can build equity and build generational wealth," said Mayor Estrada. “[We’re] not only helping that one family, but generations to come.”

Baldwin Park, like other cities in California, still has plenty of work to do. But Mayor Estrada is optimistic. “[This] is a small step in the right direction, but it’s something bigger than that,” he said. “We are not only inspiring conversations in the city — we are inspiring them in San Gabriel Valley and the region.” 

The Cal Cities #LocalWorks initiative shines the spotlight on examples of local actions that are making a difference to their communities. Show how #LocalWorks in your community by contacting