The Bob Pritchard Column
Tiny homes, from 250 to 400 square feet, are being built around the United States for a variety of reasons. Some are designed for affordability, others to be constructed quickly, and some for people who choose to live a minimalist lifestyle.
In Detroit, an entire neighborhood of tiny houses is under construction, with one primary goal: giving homeless and low-income people the opportunity to own a house. The first homes were completed in late 2016.
Half of the houses will be occupied by formerly homeless people, with seniors and college students making up the rest of the population. The concept of providing tiny houses for low-income people isn’t new — San Jose, California Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon have created villages of tiny homes for the homeless. Research shows the most efficient way to combat homelessness is to provide those living on the streets with homes.
But the Detroit model is different for an important reason: It's the only tiny house community in the country where residents rent to own. This is not only about about ending homelessness, but ending poverty for these families.
When they move in, residents sign a one-year lease with a rent that amounts to no more than one third of their monthly income. They sign new annual leases for their first three years in the home while they comply with the terms. After three years, they are invited to sign a contract that amounts to the total rent for four subsequent years. After paying that off (seven years after moving in), the resident will legally become the owner of the land and home. Their rent will have bought them the house.
The houses are available for individuals or couples, and are being built by a combination of professional construction workers and volunteers.
The neighborhood is also exceptional for another reason: Each tiny home will look unique with 25 individual sets of architectural plans, ranging from Cape Cod to Victorian to Modern styles. Everything is very different so people have a pride in their home. Each home requires five weeks of construction and costs an estimated $40,000.
The development is completely funded by private money, and grants from organizations like the Ford Motor Company and the RNR Foundation.
The tenants are now part of a homeowners association, which will be involved in the process of choosing future residents. They'll also take part in mandatory monthly classes about financial literacy and home ownership.
Unlike many similar residential projects, this Tiny Homes community won't feature communal space for cooking or doing laundry, since that could make it more complicated for residents to sell their homes later.
Locating the homes in a central area of Detroit also sets it apart. They become part of the life of the city, tucked into an existing neighborhood.
A brilliant idea to be applauded