Occupy Madison, Inc.
An illustration of the proposal for the Occupy Madison village in the Emerson East neighborhood, as seen from East Johnson Street.
Occupy Madison officially closed on property at 2046-2050 E. Johnson St. on Thursday, clearing another hurdle for its tiny house village for the homeless.
"Occupy Madison owns property. Is that some sort of oxymoron?" jokes member Bruce Wallbaum, referring to the group's anti-capitalist roots.
Although Occupy Madison now owns the property, the current tenant, Sanchez Motors, has not yet vacated. This will take a few more days, Wallbaum says.
And it will be at least a few months before anyone is allowed to live on the site. Earlier this month, the group was given approval from the Madison Common Council for the unique development in the Emerson East neighborhood, despite objections from some neighbors. Occupy plans to convert the auto repair shop into a workshop for tiny homes and park up to nine of them on the surrounding property. It purchased the property, with a loan, for $110,000.
"There's a couple days of scrub-down before we move anything there," Wallbaum says. "It's grimy. It's been an auto repair shop for the past 30 years."
The group must build a fence around the property and renovate two bathrooms before the first of three tiny homes will be allowed on the site. The amount of work is substantial. Wallbaum says of the work the group has done so far: "It's like getting to the base camp of Mount Everest."
The city's approval of the proposed development is highly conditional, and it will happen in phases. After the bathrooms are done and the fence erected, three homes will be allowed on the site. More work will be needed before other houses are allowed. The council approved a maximum of nine tiny houses and 18 people to live there.
The group hopes to create a model for addressing homelessness by having people work toward building their own homes and living cooperatively.
Ald. Larry Palm supported the project, which is in his district. He says he gets "annoyed" when it's termed experimental, noting that all developments are in some ways experiments.
"Hundreds of projects we do are experimental," he says. "We never know how this stuff is going to affect the neighborhoods, both positive and negatively."