Volunteers have been working at 2046-2050 E. Johnson St. since July to develop the village of tiny houses.
With a new coat of paint, a newly constructed fence and the addition of three houses no larger than 99 square feet, a former auto body shop on East Johnson Street looks very different than it did several months ago.
The renovated property in the Emerson East neighborhood is now the home of Occupy Madison. While the site will eventually become a self-sustaining village of tiny homes, at present no one is permitted to live there.
"Before anyone can live in those tiny homes, we have to finish up the renovations in progress," says Allen Barkoff, an Occupy Madison board member.
The former body shop on the site at 2046-2050 E. Johnson St. will serve as the group's workshop and include bathrooms for the tiny houses. Those bathrooms need to be completed and the shop needs to be rewired, Barkoff says.
Volunteers have been coming to the site nearly every day since July to help complete the first phase of renovations, Barkoff says. They have added an outer fence, built three raised garden beds and replaced the roof, all of which the group agreed to complete before allowing people to move in.
The tiny houses could see their first occupants by Nov. 1, though Barkoff says a move-in date closer to Dec. 1 is more likely.
"As of last week, the architects said we will meet the [Nov. 1] goal, but I have my doubts," Barkoff explains.
Bruce Wallbaum, another Occupy Madison board member, says the group did not anticipate having to rewire the entire former auto body shop or put a new ceiling.
Unexpected little things, as well as the unique nature of the project, have caused delays.
"Construction projects are all sort of like puzzle pieces," Wallbaum says, adding. "There's no real blueprint for a tiny home village."
As the hoped-for opening date approaches, Occupy Madison also faces a financial dilemma.
Wallbaum estimates the first phase of the project will cost around $140,000.
Despite fundraising efforts and loans from board members, the group does not currently have enough money to pay the contractors it hired to install electricity and plumbing on the site, Barkoff says.
"I'm not sure if people would like it if I told you how much money we are in the hole for, so I'm just going to estimate we are several thousand dollars in the hole right now," Barkoff says.
The project initially faced opposition from some neighbors, but Wallbaum says they have not had any neighborhood complaints since work began on the site. Some neighbors have helped with the renovations, he says.
"To be honest, any time I've had an interaction with a neighbor it has been mostly positive," Wallbaum recalls. "The person who was most opposed to the project and actually spearheaded the opposition moved away."
Barkoff says he believes the attitudes of the neighbors changed as they learned more about the project and met some of the people that were going to be living in the tiny homes.
The only other problem the group has faced recently is vandalism, Barkoff notes, after someone destroyed newly planted tree saplings and broke into a tool shed.
If the group is able to raise enough money or they receive one of the grants they applied for from the city, construction on the next phase would begin in the spring, Barkoff says.
The first phase only allows people to live in three of the tiny houses. Phase two would expand the office and retail space in the central structure, create a meeting room and add several additional houses to the site, explains Wallbaum.
"In a perfect world, it would probably be fall of next year where we would have probably seven homes up on the site," Wallbaum says.