Mad Housers

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Mad Housers, Inc. is a non-profit corporation based in Atlanta and engaged in charitable work, research and education.


Early history (1987–1999)[edit]

The Mad Housers first emerged in 1987, founded by graduate students, Michael Connor and Brian Finkel, of Georgia Tech's College of Architecture[1] to address the problem of homelessness in Atlanta.

Based on their research and plans, Connor, Finkel and three other architecture students built the first hut.[2] It was a small 6' by 8' by 6' plywood box "outfitted with a bed and shelves for [the client's] belongings".[3] However, it was dry and kept "out the wind and the rain.[2] This first experiment at housing the homeless was different from their later attempts: they built the house at a particular location and left it there to see what would happen. After two days, someone had claimed the house, moved it to a more concealed location and "reassembled [it] more practically than the prototype".[3] The group no longer builds haphazardly like this though. They "select clients beforehand, making sure they actually want huts and usually getting them to assist in construction".[4] They also try to choose their build sites based on where the homeless already live.[2] The group also became much more efficient in just their first year. They were able to erect a hut in just 20 minutes and began to use salvaged materials to build the huts "cutting the cost from 'the $200 [they] spent on the first hut to $25 to $40 each".[3]

The huts built by the volunteers are illegal as they were built on private and government properties in defiance of building codes. Some officials considered them an infraction of law. By June 1989, Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs tore down two huts near a residential area and Georgia Department of Transportation removed one that was built on their access land.[2]

Mad Housers helps their clients squat on small lots away from general view in industrial areas or near the edge of transportation facilities. Their largest community as of 1999 had 21 huts. Before clients receive their huts, Mad Housers informs their clients that where they intend on squatting is considered trespassing.[5]: 93–95 


Tracy Woodard and Nick Hess took over the organization in 1999 and have been building huts at a rate of about 15 per year near where campers are already camping.[6] As of 2017, most of the clients are older males. "They don’t have to get sober or have a clean criminal record." Woodard says.[6]


The newspaper and magazine articles of the late 1980s tended to emphasize the secretive nature of the organization describing them as "guerrilla hut-builders",[7] a "secret society of sorts", and having "the air of a fraternity prank".[3] This image of secrecy was in fact an integral component of the organization for the first couple years. One Mad Houser explained in a newspaper article, "secrecy was necessary […] to avoid arrest and prevent the Georgia Department of Transportation […] from tearing them down".[7]

In July 1988, they participated in a demonstration for the homeless at the Democratic National Convention.[7] Since then, they have continued to bring "the plight of the homeless to public attention".[2] Then, in 1990, an hour-long documentary aired on 90 TV stations around the nation dramatizing the Mad Houser's work.[8]

Important city events such as the 1988 Democratic National Convention (and presumably the 1996 Olympics) also created tension between the city and the Mad Housers by clearing out several sites.[9] However, the Mad Housers were able to reach an "informal alliance with local officials and the city police".[2] As one article pointed out, "the mayors seem to have realized these are not normal times. We can't deal in niceties and fine points here".[10]

Even though huts were welcomed by the homeless, municipal officials obligated to uphold vagrancy laws and building codes were not thrilled and their reactions in 2004 were in between "grudging tolerance to outrage". While they provide alternative shelter, they violate zoning ordinances and building codes.[11]: 49–50 

Phenomenology of the huts[edit]

Several articles mention how the clients arrange their personal possessions in their hut with special significance because they did not have that luxury before.[3][12] Having a hut is a transformational experience for the clients.[7]


  1. ^ "Mad Housers Hut. Design for the Other 90%". Archived from the original on 9 September 2007. Retrieved 3 August 2007.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Anderson, Kristine F. (14 June 1989). "Clandestine Carpenters Help the Homeless". Christian Science Monitor. ISSN 0882-7729. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Raising the Roof to Aid the Homeless". Atlanta Journal Constitution. New York Times. 15 March 1988. p. A,16.
  4. ^ "A Holiday for Heroes". Newsweek. 4 July 1988. p. 34.
  5. ^ Dehavenon, Anna Lou (1999). There's No Place Like Home: Anthropological Perspectives on Housing and Homelessness in the United States. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-89789-661-0.
  6. ^ a b "Organizations: Mad Housers". Georgia Trend Magazine. 1 September 2017. Retrieved 18 October 2020.
  7. ^ a b c d Morris, Holly (1 October 1992). "Atlanta Group's Tents with Privacy Are Big Hit with Hurricane Victims". The Atlanta Constitution. p. A3.
  8. ^ Krasner, Mike (28 March 1990). "'The Mad Housers' grapples with issue of homelessness". Telegram & Gazette (ALL ed.). Worcester, Massachusetts: ABI/INFORM Trade & Industry. p. D5.
  9. ^ May, Lee (18 June 1990). "Almost Homeless: 'Mad Housing' in Atlanta Their volunteer-built shacks are in hidden spots but hut-dwellers fear they are living on borrowed time". Los Angeles Times (Home ed.). p. 5.
  10. ^ "Homeless Group Vows too Face Bulldozer". United Press International. 25 May 1992.
  11. ^ Davis, Sam (29 November 2004). Designing for the Homeless: Architecture That Works. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-23525-0.
  12. ^ Anderson, Kristine F. (14 June 1989). "A Hut Resident and a Mad Houser Coordinator". The Christian Science Monitor. p. 13.

External links[edit]