Monday, June 24, 2024

Eden Village’s second community in the works after ‘God pods’ stall

The city could see another Eden Village as early as next year after the founder of the tiny home community hit a roadblock with an emergency housing proposal earlier in 2024. (Port City Daily/Amy Passaretti)

WILMINGTON — The city could see another Eden Village as early as next year after the founder of the tiny home community hit a roadblock with an emergency housing proposal earlier in 2024. 

READ MORE: Eden Village identifies land for pod-style campground for homeless individuals

Tom Dalton, who has been providing homes to the unsheltered at Eden Village since 2023, told Port City Daily on Tuesday he was looking to build a second 3D-printed community. Edeven Village used 3D printing through Apis Cor. for its modular home community, but this project would use concrete instead.

“They are promised to be structurally superior to standard construction, withstanding winds of over 200 miles per hour,” Dalton said. “They can be printed with less waste and a better timeline.” 

Dalton said the 3D printer company Mudbots is working with the architecture school at Drury University in Springfield Missouri — where the Eden Village concept was born — to develop the structures. Springfield’s third Eden Village plans to use the 3D method and another Eden Village in Texas has already put down seven homes, according to Dalton.

With 300 square feet built out in three weeks, the homes are a relatively fast and inexpensive solution for communities looking to house people living on the streets. 

Dalton said he hopes to build around 24 for his next project. The units would be leased under the same conditions of Eden Village — targeted for homeless individuals who would be responsible for paying $400 a month. All he needs now is land. 

“We have people that are looking at land across the city, to try to find the right thing, to secure funding for the infrastructure,” Dalton said. 

The founder said he was exploring a city or county land donation or funding for a parcel, though he would be willing to purchase the land with Eden Village’s funding, garnered through donors. Setting up an endowment is the long-term funding goal, Dalton said. 

“It would take several million dollars in an endowment alone to be able to run this effort in perpetuity without needing to go and beg and put in our personal funds each year,” Dalton said. 

Each unit would cost less than $15,000 in materials, according to Mudbot, and their machines start at $38,000. Dalton has already purchased two, though he said if the land deal comes through before his team can get the 3D printing operational, he would move forward with modular homes seen in the original Eden Village. 

The founder, also a local anesthesiologist, is now focused on the new village after his proposal to plant “God pods” on city property hit a building code snag. The 28-pod community was designed as a temporary shelter that would be open on a first-come first-serve, for $10 nightly. 

The plan caused a stir among New Hanover County, the City of Wilmington and the Cape Fear Continuum of Care, the homeless agency in charge of directing federal funding to local partners. The CoC board advised against a donation of city property off Marsteller Street due to concerns over safety and the concentration of poverty in that area. 

An added layer of complication came from the CoC passing a resolution imploring city and county officials to require agencies it funds to use the federal Homeless Management Information System and coordinated entry procedure. This is a requirement of CoC funding, but Eden Village does not participate in either system nor receives federal funding.

At a joint meeting on Feb. 7, council members and commissioners questioned why they admonished a perceived “tribal mindset” when it comes to homelessness outreach and directed staff to keep exploring Dalton’s proposal.

Earlier this month, though, Dalton was informed the proposed shed-like structures will not pass building code set by the North Carolina Department of Insurance. The code mandates sleeping units of 120 square feet that house two or three people each are intended for use in extreme weather conditions and disasters. Such structures must be municipally owned and are only allowed on sites for 180 days; any structure intended to last longer must comply with the full building code. 

Though he’s not advocating for their complete overhaul, Dalton told PCD it is regulations like the 180-day stipulation that stand in the way of homeless individuals seeking shelter and a community partner’s ability to give it to them.

“It’s a shame that we have people sleeping on the streets tonight and we have all those pods sitting down at Eden Village, and we could easily have them in an air-conditioned, dry bed,” Dalton said. 

Dalton’s switch to permanent housing is also in line with a move made by the village’s mother-city of Springfield earlier this month. The Eden Village team in Missouri announced it would close its pod-style community and divert resources to permanent supportive housing. 

Dalton does not foresee the building code coming in the way of the 3D home project, but he said NIMBY-ism could.

“We were fortunate enough to secure land quickly for Eden Village,” Dalton said. “It is difficult to find the right spot, the right neighbors, the right plan to place these facilities in where we house folks at a very low rent rate.” 

Dalton said he is looking for around 3 acres to put the gated community on. He is estimating the price of the project at $4 million.

“We’ve lived here 28 years,” Dalton said, adding he and his wife, Kim, are committed. “We’re not stopping. We have considerable resources in the bank right now, as we build up, we’re sitting on probably a couple million dollars to move forward on our next development.”


Tips or comments? Email journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com.

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