March 4, NPR

Tiny houses, microhomes, shacks: No matter their name, small wooden structures have become a talked-about method of combatting homelessness in cities along the West Coast. However, Los Angeles is beginning to target unauthorized structures for removal from city streets.

We’ve covered legal and ethical issues associated with microhomes recently, as the dialogue surrounding these structures heats up in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Small structures as housing for the homeless have been embraced in some cities, including Portland, whose mayor has discussed plans to build permanent tiny structures to house homeless residents. However, the appearance of un-zoned, mobile structures—each about the size of a small shed—has troubled Los Angeles officials and residents.

In August, L.A. City Council member Joe Buscaino introduced a motion to remove tiny homes from public areas in the city, citing the homes’ lack of water or sewer service, low visibility to drivers, and impact on surrounding communities. Buscaino said of the mobile structures, “These shacks are not the solution to end homelessness in our city.”

Earlier, in 2015, the L.A. City Council passed an ordinance cracking down on street encampments and allowing the seizure of “bulky” items, such as furniture, in public spaces. The L.A. senior assistant city attorney has stated that microhomes qualify as such structures, and, while the city has been slow to enforce the ordinance, removal of microhomes has picked up recently with the removal of three microhouses and the tagging of others in preparation for their confiscation.

Those supportive of the city’s actions express concerns about insulation, about proximity to restrooms and other basic measures of livability for the structures, and about L.A.’s liability should a tiny home resident become injured in a public area. A recently approved plan to increase funding for permanent supportive housing is seen by some as a better alternative for handling L.A.’s homelessness crisis.

Opponents of the removal say that microhomes offer much-needed emergency shelter for individuals living outdoors. The activist behind L.A.’s Tiny House Project, one funder of unauthorized tiny houses, has said that the need for housing is too immediate to address through the planned changes to the city’s services for homeless residents. Elvis Summers, who has built dozens of six-by-ten-foot structures for homeless people in L.A., told TakePart that, “There are human beings suffering right now. People need emergency shelter right now.”—Lauren Karch