TUSTIN — First off, don’t call it a “tiny house” — at least in the presence of its promoter.
This cozy, 160-square-foot abode is a MicroPAD, shorthand for Prefab Affordable Dwelling. And it’s more than just cute, said Patrick Kennedy, who began marketing the diminutive habitat this year. It’s an answer to homelessness, he said.
Tustin Mayor Allan Bernstein invited Kennedy to display a model MicroPAD in the parking lot outside City Hall. On Wednesday, May 31, dozens of officials from around the county — including Supervisor Andrew Do, mayors and council members — stopped by to check out the innovative digs.
Bernstein sits on the Associated California Cities of Orange County Homelessness Task Force. While researching the burgeoning problem, he came across the website for Kennedy’s San Francisco company, Panoramic Interests.
“It strikes me as a viable solution,” Bernstein said. “Homelessness needs to be addressed in manageable bites.”
According to preliminary figures released last month as part of a federally mandated biannual survey, Orange County recorded 4,792 homeless people, more than half living without shelter — a nearly 8 percent increase since 2015. Most of the homeless people in Orange County are adults without families or children.
The MicroPAD was inspired by the trend to convert shipping containers into living and work spaces, Kennedy said. However, its own steel frame is built for housing from the start.
Each unit costs about $150,000 to construct and to outfit with appliances and plumbing. Kennedy plans to rent the units to municipalities for around $1,000 per month apiece.
MicroPADS can be stacked to form multi-story buildings unified by exterior stucco — mass-manufactured affordable housing.
“There are opportunities to develop communities for homeless people, with a focus on homeless veterans, at the Tustin Legacy and in other cities,” Bernstein said, referring to the former Air Station now being reinvented as a mixed-use neighborhood.
The recent one-night survey counted 357 homeless military veterans in the county. Men outnumbered women by almost 3 to 1.
During the tour, Kennedy proudly showed visitors around the MicroPAD — a more involved expedition than might be imagined for an 8-foot-by-20-foot box, given all the details and subtle features.
Storage areas and gadgets avail themselves at every turn: hooks on the wall at the entry (the “mud room,” as Kennedy dubs it); drawers under the bed; and clothes hangers that swing outward from an ingenious flat closet.
Everything is made to last — and for dual purposes. In the bathroom, Kennedy did a few chin ups on the shower curtain rod to demonstrate its strength. The kitchen counter is composed of indestructible quartz stone and the floor hardy bamboo.
“This place could double as bomb shelter,” Kennedy quipped.
Aesthetics are just as important as durability, he said — thus the track lighting, wide window and opaque glass that serves as the bathroom’s partition.
Kennedy pulled down the window blinds and turned off the overhead lighting to reveal one of his favorite touches: Blue LED lights rimming the shower cast a mystical glow over the living quarters.
The MicroPAD offers comfort, as well, he said. It’s soundproof. An ultraviolet light under the bed kills bedbugs. A ventilation system keeps fresh air flowing.
He also likes to point out tricks that make the one-room studio feel bigger. A wall mirror by the desk reflects the window — creating a “faux bay window,” Kennedy said. The 9-foot-high ceiling offsets claustrophobia. And all cabinets sit on legs, a lift that likewise helps convey spaciousness.
Irvine Mayor Donald Wagner joined other leaders in the tour. In an interview afterward, he praised Bernstein for taking the initiative to find creative examples of affordable housing.
“It’s great engineering — they put a lot into a little space,” he said.
But, he observed, “Such a small unit would not serve homeless families.”
Bernstein mentioned Irvine as a place with land to spare. It’s an idea that also has been floated by Supervisor Shawn Nelson, who in May proposed a temporary homeless shelter on county-owned land in Irvine just south of the Great Park.
However, Wagner questioned whether his city “would work logistically.”
“It seems housing for homeless should go where the homeless are,” he said. “That’s not to say we don’t have homeless people, but we have far less in number than do other areas of the county.”
Regardless of such hurdles, the MicroPAD could offer quick, dignified and economical shelter to thousands of people, Kennedy said.
“It’s hard to look for a job when you don’t have a roof over your head,” he said. “This gives you a safe and attractive place to get your life back together.”
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