A group of volunteers have spent the past few weeks setting up a tiny house in the garden of a private home in Montreuil, a Parisian suburb. Soon, this diminutive domicile will become home to two refugees in need.
This house is the very first built and installed as part of the "In My Backyard" (IMBY) initiative, which is the brainchild of Quatorze, an organisation dedicated to architecture in the cause of social justice. “IMBY” is meant to express the opposite sentiment of NIMBY (an acronym for “Not In My Backyard”), which is used in the United States and the UK to refer to people who oppose a new development because of its close proximity to their homes, even though it may be useful to society (example: No one wants a landfill across the street from them, even though we all agree we need somewhere to put our rubbish). IMBY, on the contrary, is about people stepping up and offering their backyards (literally) to help house refugees.
For the past few weeks, volunteers have been working to set up a tiny wooden house. The house is 20m2 and it is 3.5 metres high. It includes a kitchen, a bathroom and a mezzanine that serves as a bedroom. Currently, the final touches are being made and its new residents are expected mid-November.
The tiny house is delivered to Montreuil. (Photo: Quatorze / Maïté Pinchon)
“It only took us a few hours to make up our minds”
Dominique Blanc and his partner Charlotte Boulanger are the homeowners hosting the newly built tiny home in their backyard.
It only took us a few hours to make up our minds after we heard about this initiative. My partner and I have really been troubled by the failure of many French people to welcome immigrants and refugees to our country. Moreover, this project is a perfect fit for us, because we have a pretty sizeable backyard and we didn’t really know what to do with it.
Quite a few people in France welcome refugees into their homes, but that would have been hard for us as we have two young children and not very much space. But having a small house in the garden is a perfect solution. It also means that our residents will be quite independent. We also like the idea that the people who move into the tiny house will be assigned a social worker through the ELAN programme run by the Paris branch of SAMU Social [Editor’s note: SAMU Social is a municipal humanitarian emergency service that runs in several cities in France and abroad.]
Model of the inside of a “tiny house”. (Image: Quatorze / D.A.T. Pangea)
We don’t know yet who is going to move into the tiny house, but we are going to find out in the next few days. We’re excited to meet them. We’re expecting two roommates. A divider has been added to the bedroom to provide the two residents with a bit more privacy.
"We’re hoping to have them over for dinner regularly”
We requested to have people who can speak some French or English so that we can talk with them. Our hope is that they become close to our family. We can’t plan everything ahead of time, but we’re hoping to have them over for dinner regularly and share other activities with them.
Once the tiny house was set up, volunteers added a small porch with a roof. (Photo: Quatorze / Maïté Pinchon)
The idea is that people will be able to stay in the tiny house for at most a year. The hope is that, by then, they’ll have found a job and become independent. Two more people will move in after that. We’ve committed to the programme for two years.
We hope our experience will inspire others to do the same. We would like to see a bunch of other people sign up to this project!
The team of volunteers who helped set up the tiny house included architects, architecture students and several refugees. (Photo: Quatorze / Maïté Pinchon)
According to Romain Minod, the director of the Quatorze organisation, about 30 people have already offered to have a tiny house set up in their back garden. If the first experience goes well, then he hopes to set up more houses as soon as possible.
It cost €35,000 to build IMBY’s first "tiny house”. The organisation covers the building cost by reselling the houses in advance. Under their system, the first tiny house has already been sold to buyers who will get it after it has been used to house refugees for two years. The organisation ran a crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of installing the house in its current location.