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San Rafael students build tiny homes and new skills

June 10, 2024

By KERI BRENNER | kbrenner@marinij.com | Marin Independent Journal

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San Rafael High School senior Bodhi Shipley was proud to see the results of 10 months of work to build two tiny homes from scratch in the school parking lot.

Shipley, 18, said he plans to use the new skills for part-time work in his family’s construction business while he earns a degree at St. Mary’s College in Moraga.

“My favorite part is seeing that there was nothing here before, and now it’s here,” he said. “I’m happy it will help someone.”

The 8-by-20-foot homes — on display Thursday as the project wrapped up for the year — are part of an effort coordinated by Big Skills, Tiny Homes, a group launched in 2019 by San Anselmo resident Sean Ticknor.

Unlike previous homes on trailers assembled by the organization, the homes produced by 48 San Rafael High School students are ready for installation on permanent foundations as accessory dwelling units.

The organization is now working with the East Bay chapter of the national nonprofit Rebuilding Together, which handles sales and funding, freeing up the Marin program to focus on construction with the students, said Ticknor, the executive director.

The instructors are Ticknor and Danielle Faulkner, an Emeryville resident who works for both programs.

Next school year, the program will continue at San Rafael High School and expand to a project at the Branson School in Ross. The group is also in discussion with at least two other Marin school districts to add projects at their campuses for 2025-26, said J.W. Frye, executive director of Rebuilding Together.

“It becomes self-funding, so we don’t have to continue to go out” to raise money or apply for grants, Frye said. “By building something that’s of value to go into the communities, we’re able to have a self-sustaining program, especially for lower-income schools and lower-income clientele, so you can subsidize the teaching cost.”

In addition to the 150 hours of student construction work, Big Skills, Tiny Homes supplied four adult workers to help with construction. They got 900 hours of training and experience, plus $5,000, Ticknor said.

Next year, Canal Alliance in San Rafael will supply additional adult workers who want to join the construction team and who live in the Canal area. The adult workers will earn $12,000 per person in stipends from Rebuilding Together while also receiving “two years in wraparound services from Canal Alliance,” Frye said.

Frye said one of the two homes sold for about $60,000 to a homeowner in Berkeley and the other sale is in process with several nonprofit foundations. Each homeowner must pay the costs to transport and install the dwellings, estimated at about $20,000.

Policy makers in Marin and elsewhere have said that ADUs can add affordable housing while helping homeowners pay their mortgages through rental income.

ADUs could also be a partial answer to homelessness, or for lower-income residents who can’t afford the $2,500-plus average monthly apartment rent in the Bay Area.

Faulkner, a Branson graduate who grew up in Marin, will be one of the instructors at the school’s project. Student interest has been high, she said.

The dwellings come with a refrigerator, air-conditioning, heating, a microwave, a bed and utilities hookups. They also feature several built-in shelving and storage spaces and a full bathroom with a stall shower.

Two square wood-block tables are mounted on the kitchen wall. They can be pulled up individually or together for dining or office work.

Jackson Garcia, a senior at San Rafael High School who worked on the dwellings, said he was so pleased with the program that he plans to come back during the holiday break to help educate next year’s students.

“This was my first time doing a project this big,” said Garcia, 18.

He said the construction skills he learned will fit into his eventual career plans as a real estate agent after he graduates from Sonoma State University with a degree in business.

“It was really fun, really educational and the teachers were great,” he said.

San Rafael junior Wyld Owyeung, another student builder, said he was pleased that he learned skills such as plumbing, drywall installation, painting and electrical work.

He said he plans to use the skills to perform repairs himself when he eventually owns rental properties or other real estate.

“If I own houses and something goes wrong, I can fix it,” said Owyeung, 17.

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