Story and photos by Stephanie Shor
Yurts of Hawai’i formed an alliance with Habitat for Humanity West Hawai’i (HFH) to introduce The Yurt Project in a grand opening event today.
Pat Hurney, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity, which has provided approximately 800,000 dwellings nationwide in its history, announced that a family will be chosen in October of this year by their committee to be the recipients of the first yurt in the organization’s history.
According to Owner of Yurts of Hawai’i Melissa Fletcher, a yurt is a circular “rebounding structure” made from cloth Duralast material. The “NASA-developed” architectural material covers over 30 rafters radiating from a central dome skylight, supported by latticework walls, which are able to withstand winds of up to 120 mph, according to a press release from The Yurt Project. The unique structure of the yurt allows it to flex with moving earth in times of natural disasters, such as earthquakes, far more effectively than an average house.
Ranging in size from 16 feet to the newest 33 feet in circumference, the movable dwelling only takes approximately two days to erect depending upon size. The yurt design is centuries old, initially utilized by nomads of Central Asia, due to its ability to be taken apart and transported with ease. The first HFH yurt, which will be located in Ocean View, will be 24 feet around with a full kitchen, indoor bathroom, and covered lanai with laundry facilities.
The platform will take approximately five days to set up while the actual yurt complex will “set a new record in being erected in less than a day,” according to My Year in a Yurt author Jen McGeehan. The writer presided over the grand opening event and introduced testimony from three Yurts of Hawai’i homeowners. Copies of My Year in a Yurt were available for purchase with 15% of all profits donated to the fundraising effort for the first Habitat yurt.
McGeehan first contacted Yurts of Hawai’i’s Melissa Fletcher, as she finished her book on her experience in the “450 not-so-square-foot” Pa’auilo structure, about the idea of merging Fletcher’s organization with Habitat for Humanity in order to “provide a yurt for a deserving family here on the Big Island.”
Fletcher anticipated the fundraising effort for this first yurt to take about a year. Nine organizations have already donated services and finances so that the joint cooperative will only need to raise 75% of the $60,000 cost due to their generosity.
HFH usually offers no-interest mortgage payments extended over the course of 30 years, but with the donations from this first yurt, the dwelling will be easily paid for within 15 years at a third of the ordinary cost. The designer of the initial HFH yurt, Clinton Mercado of Clint’s Drafting was in attendance at the grand opening and happily agreed to volunteer his services free of charge.
Recipients of volunteer-built houses are chosen by the organization’s board based upon their immediate need, willingness to partner in the construction of the structure and a stable income and credit history. Generally individuals and families that are chosen fall into the low to medium income bracket, making under $63,000 a year for a family of four. This same set of criteria will determine which family will be granted the first HFH yurt in October.
According to District Six County Councilmember Brenda Ford, affordable housing generally costs more than $300,000 per home, while the durable and movable yurts are priced around $60,000 for the “full treatment kit” of a 24-foot structure which includes all permit services, plumbing, electric and septic installation. Ford spoke at the end of the gathering to express her excitement and support for the emerging project.
“The cost of affordable housing (on the island) is a problem,” she said. “There is a man who actually lives underneath a house on a dirt floor and pays $600 a month for it. People are really getting taken advantage of.” Ford also noted that state organizations such as safe houses for troubled youth and shelters for victims of domestic violence would benefit greatly from the round structures. The county representative who had attended of her own accord hoped to see entire small villages of affordable housing yurts in the future.
HFH estimates that, in Hawai’i alone, 17 % of the population lives in poverty and 52% of homeless families maintain full or part-time jobs but still do not earn enough money to afford permanent housing. McGeehan, along with other yurt owners described their experiences of “starting over, getting out of debt and living smaller.” The circular homes provide sustainable living environments with the capability for water catchment systems, solar power and minimal effect on the surrounding environment while providing a safe and affordable home to Hawaiian families.
Donors to The Yurt Project so far include Argus Building Supply, Clint’s Drafting & Services, Colorado Yurts, Habitat for Humanity West Hawai’i, Jen McGeehan, ReStore, Valspar Paint, Whirlpool and Yurts of Hawai’i.