The father-daughter team of Jennifer LaFreniere and Rex Hohlbein, founders of The Block Project, designed a program of small sustainable houses for homeless people. These homes are now being used by twelve people who used to live on the streets of Seattle, nestled in backyards throughout Washington’s largest city. Each tiny house is sustainable and likely to be the most sustainable home on your block, with solar cells mounted on the roofs generating more than enough power for cooking, heating, and lighting, even in Seattle’s dreary weather.
The Block Project is an initiative designed to erect one tiny house on every block in Seattle. The residences are built by volunteers under the supervision of Facing Homelessness, a local non-profit organization. Its founders, Jennifer and Rex, set out to solve two seemingly inextricable problems—homelessness and climate change—one tiny house at a time.
“We wanted the houses to be beautiful to live in and as efficient as possible,” LaFreniere explained. The structures were designed according to the basic building principles of a “passive house” that would be well insulated so that they could be heated with a minimal amount of energy. The architects chose juniper wood for the exterior of the houses instead of using metal siding for fear of toxic spillage and because juniper would also help the homes fit in with the wooded aesthetic of the northwest.
“The Block Project” takes time to find homeowners willing to give up their backyards to build a home for a previously homeless person. Once a host is found, people from all over the city cooperate, digging the earth for the foundation, assembling the house and contributing to the design of the garden.
Residents live there rent-free and are connected to a network of support services that ease the transition and help them process any trauma they’ve experienced. The project has been so successful that of the 20 individuals who have lived in homes on The Block in Seattle, 19 have remained in the homes or have found other stable, permanent residences.
Hohlbein and LaFreniere have conducted field consultations on The Block Project across the country and have given talks in destinations as far away as Chicago. The initiative has faced criticism, but since Seattle revamped its regulations regarding ADUs, construction has skyrocketed. The houses in The Block Project are so carefully conceived and constructed that one of them has just received certification from The Living Building Challenge, a program administered by the International Living Future Institute which validates that a structure meets high sustainability standards.