Beautiful Micro-House Built in Sustainable Community For Formerly Homeless Folks

Built with donations and donated materials, this planned community of 300+ micro-houses will provide housing and support services.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects exterior

Leonid Furmansky

Tiny homes are a possible affordable housing solution for younger individuals, young families, or even older folks looking to downsize. Micro-sized homes might also be helpful as an option for people who are transitioning from homelessness, and it's especially impressive when it's part of an organized effort to create a sustainable community.

In Austin, Texas, one such community is being built, as part of a partnership between various local nonprofits, businesses, faith organizations, and neighborhood schools that aims to provide support to the growing number of people who are experiencing chronic homelessness within the city, and who are looking to transition to stable, permanent housing. According to Dwell, Community First! Village is a planned community spread over 51 acres, consisting of two phases: the first covering 27 acres and 130 micro-homes, while the second will comprise of 24 acres and 200 micro-homes.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects community first! village
Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects. Leonid Furmansky

An Austin-based firm, Mckinney York Architects, contributed their services pro-bono in designing the lovely Micro House 2, which features a porch and a number of design techniques aimed at passively cooling the structure as much as possible, given the region's intensely hot summers. This is the second iteration of an earlier version of a micro-home that the firm built for Phase I – this new version features a sun-maximizing butterfly roof (also known as an inverted gable roof) that can harvest rainwater for the garden.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects exterior
Micro House 2 exterior. Leonid Furmansky

The design brief was to create a home for a client who had lived in Phase I of the Community First! Village project, and who was now looking to move into a home in Phase II. Like all the other tiny homes in the earlier phase of the community project, the design had to take into account the client's need for privacy, as well as climate and the path of the sun, says McKinney York architect Aaron Taylor, in speaking about the earlier and similar version of the Micro House 2:

"The main issue with site planning is the units are relatively dense out there. The building has to take advantage of sun orientation and seasonal breezes, but also have privacy."

Since the structures are built out of donated materials, the design had to be simple, yet make the most of whatever was available. In addition, there would be no lofts or ladders, says Taylor, and for a good reason:

"It’s difficult to design a small space because every inch counts for something, but a lot of the residents at Community First! Village have chronic health issues. The design would have to exclude any lofts, ladders, or other space-saving techniques that would be tough for those with disabilities or limited mobility to access."

Despite these constraints, the final result is impressive. The micro-home's interior is laid out as two interconnected spaces that have been configured to maximize natural sunlight throughout the day.

There is a small kitchenette at one end of the house. It includes cabinets, shelving, and electrical outlets to plug in appliances like a hot plate and microwave. There is no plumbing here, but there are communal bathrooms and kitchens nearby – an arrangement that helps to foster the communal bonds between residents.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects kitchen
Leonid Furmansky

There's also a desk and chair here – all the furniture has been donated by local businesses.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects interior
Leonid Furmansky

Dividing up the interior is a blue-painted, barn-style sliding door that opens into the bedroom. The windows above it allow light and air to pass through.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects sliding door
Leonid Furmansky

Inside the bedroom, there is a single bed, and a wardrobe to store one's belongings. The ceilings are high and the windows large, thanks to the V-shape of the roof.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects bedroom
Leonid Furmansky

Another key element to the all of the community's homes is the porch, as it's a way for residents to have a bit of a semi-public space to receive visitors, and to sit down outside for some fresh air and sun. Notably, due to this micro-home's siting, the porch is completely screened in order to keep out insects.

Micro House 2 by McKinney York Architects porch
Leonid Furmansky

This beautiful micro-home and planned community are a great example of the concept of "housing first" to reduce homelessness. The notion of prioritizing housing from the get-go is becoming more mainstream, thanks to studies that show long-term outcomes are significantly improved when stable housing is offered first, in tandem with support services.

The Community First! project completed Phase I back in 2018, which includes crucial supportive amenities like a community market, woodworking shop, cinema, and art house, and an organic garden. They are now in the process of completing Phase II, which will have an "entrepreneur hub," and even a 3D-printed office building. See more of Mckinney York Architects' work or their Facebook; you can also find out how you can help or sponsor a micro-home in the next phase via Mobile Loaves and Fishes.