Volunteer builder aims to end Seattle's homelessness, one tiny house at a time

Dale Hoff helps build 'tiny homes' for Seattle's homeless. (Photo: KOMO News) 

SEATTLE -- In a narrow alley behind his Northeast Seattle home, Dale Hoff lifts the door to his garage and flips on the air compressor.

For the next few minutes he hammers, nails and stares skeptically at the tiny shed-like building going up next to his fence.

“The last one was a red door and this is a nice green one this time,” he said, walking inside.

But the small building is no shed, it’s a home. Hoff sees it as a place for warmth and safety, a drastic improvement for people living homeless in tents across Seattle.

For a long time, Hoff wondered how he could help the city’s growing homeless population. He talked to neighbors, fellow congregants at University Temple United Methodist Church and friends, he said no one knew what to do.

He says they all had “the feeling of paralysis” around the homeless issue.

“Everyone was just talking, talking, talking and it just wasn’t going away and it was getting more prevalent and I just thought hard about what I could possibly do concretely for that and this seemed like the right fit for me,” Hoff said.

Hoff, a semi-retired home builder, set a goal – build one tiny house a month.

“I want to bring them into a place where they can get the help they need, gosh warmth, security seem like a pretty big part of my life,” he said.

In October, he started reaching out over social media networks, fundraising and looking for help. He said he was inundated. Local businesses like Dunn Lumber and Frank’s Lumber, the Door Store and others jumped in to offer supplies. Others offered money and time.

“I’ve got a good following of people so they’re helping me out,” Hoff said.

Hoff has one house down and is working on another now. He hosts work parties in his alley almost every weekend.

There is a push in the city to get people out of tents and into one of the small dwellings. Mayor Jenny Durkan, on Wednesday, announced a plan to put $5.5. million from the sale of an $11 million city property in South Lake Union, toward the expansion of tiny house villages.

“First we have to understand this is just a bridge,” Durkan said during a news conference on Wednesday. “We know that tiny houses and micro-houses are not a solution for long-term and supportive housing that many of the people living in the streets need.”

Sharon Lee, the Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute, is working with Hoff to get the houses he builds distributed.

Lee said there are 200 tiny homes already scattered throughout Seattle. Standing inside one village in the Central Area Thursday she pointed out placards on homes showing the

businesses and churches who built them. She said that Hoff’s gifts are a huge help.

“Homelessness has been such an issue in the community and people want to do something and they think this is a small way of contributing but it’s actually making a huge difference,” Lee said.

Hoff said each house costs about $2,500 and takes roughly two weeks to build.

While Hoff said that he could easily build each house alone, he wants help from others who want to put some effort toward the homeless crisis.

“Yeah, bring your hammer Saturdays and Sundays,” he said.

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