Rent-to-own tiny housing development aims to lift low-income folks out of poverty (Video)

Cass Community Social Services
© Cass Community Social Services

Much has been said about how tiny homes will help make housing and home ownership more affordable and accessible to a larger number of people. But access to land and the slow pace of zoning reform have always been two of the biggest barriers. Nevertheless, things are gradually changing, as we can see from the recent efforts to get tiny houses written into the international residential building code, and from this inspiring rent-to-own tiny house project in Detroit that aims to make home ownership accessible to low-income folks.

Earlier today, local non-profit Cass Community Social Services (CCSS) kicked off a fundraising event that welcomed the public to tour the first six completed tiny homes, out of the approximately 25 tiny homes in total that are slated to be built in the two vacant blocks between the Lodge and Woodrow Wilson Street. Each home will look different, ranging in size from 250 to 400 square feet and will be erected on its own foundation. Here's Cass' executive director Reverend Faith Fowler speaking about the project:

Cass Community Social ServicesCass Community Social Services/Video screen capture
Cass Community Social ServicesCass Community Social Services/Video screen capture

The structures are being built with the permission of the city, and with the help of professional tradespeople and volunteers. The project is using a rent-to-own model, with rental prices set at $1 per square foot, meaning that a 300-square-foot house would cost $300 in rent per month. Each will have its own basic furnishings and appliances, but no bedroom -- so they are not meant for families.

This tiny house neighbourhood is within walking distance to Cass' main campus, meaning that residents won't be isolated and can still access many of the social, educational, recreational and health services that the agency provides.

Cass Community Social Services© Cass Community Social Services
Cass Community Social Services© Cass Community Social Services

Tenants have to meet low-income eligibility requirements, and have to go through an interview and selection process. The plan is to focus on housing low-income seniors, students, and homeless people as well, who want to have a place of their own, but don't have the funds to buy a home.

Tenants pay their rent, capped at no more than a third of their monthly wages, and after a maximum of seven years of paying off the cost of the house, they will be owners of the home they live in. As experienced tiny house residents know, the cost of utilities such as heat will be low, estimated here to be about $35 per month. The only mandatory requirement is that tenants attend financial coaching and home maintenance classes once a month.

Cass Community Social Services© Cass Community Social Services
Cass Community Social Services© Cass Community Social Services

The tiny house project is being funded by private donations and foundations, including the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund. Besides providing affordable housing, Cass' long-term goal is to help revitalize the surrounding area, as there are over 300 vacant properties within a one-mile radius. Cass has already rehabilitated some of these other unoccupied buildings for low-income residents, but this particular tiny house project is forward-thinking as it focuses on giving renters a boost and a future asset with the rent-to-own scheme. Says Fowler:

It's good for everybody. It's good for the environment, as tiny homes have a small carbon footprint. It's good for the renter to become homeowners because [they will someday have] an asset. It's good for the neighbourhood because 25 more lots will be filled with people and repopulated. It's good for the city because they'll become taxpayers. It's good for the larger community, especially the homeless community, to see that somebody who used to be homeless now is a stakeholder in our neighbourhood. So it's really good on so many levels, and we're excited about it.

It's a great idea that a recovering Detroit needs (better than bringing in zombies, anyway), and that other cities in a similar situation might be inspired to emulate. To see more images of the interior of one of the completed tiny homes, see Curbed and visit Cass Community Social Services.

Tags: Detroit | Housing Industry | Less Is More | Living With Less | Small Spaces

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