In Detroit, one woman is on a mission to use tiny homes as a gateway for upward mobility and wealth. For minimum wage workers and other Americans struggling to get by or living paycheck to paycheck, she created a rent-to-own program with rents as low as $250 a month.
Reverend Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, leveraged her non-profit foundation and community donations to create the Tiny Homes Detroit program, which will now allow people with incomes as low as $10,000 become homeowners. Over the course of as few as seven years, residents could own their homes outright without a mortgage, something that has always been out of reach for people in low-income brackets.
Fowler recently told Fast Company that is what sets them apart from other home ownership programs for minimum wage workers, such as Habitat for Humanity.
"People making that small amount of money can't qualify for a mortgage," she says. "They're essentially locked out of housing that serves as a piggyback for the rest of us. In addition the pride of having a place you can call your own, the beginning of wealth, or the security of having an asset you can call your own, was very important to us. More important than the tininess of the home."
In addition to the tiny homes themselves, the Detroit development will feature a community center where residents have access to monthly financial literacy programs, mental health services, nutrition and wellness education, and more.
Especially in developing areas — or redeveloping areas, such as cities like Detroit and New Orleans where neighborhood blight is a serious issue — the combination of inexpensive land and flexible local regulations could be a massive boon for creating tiny home communities like these.
"Certainly for cities that have an abundance of relatively inexpensive land, this is a great proposition," Fowler explained. "It also makes sense in some rural areas. Everywhere I travel, I see homeless people now. It's not just cities anymore. Two or three tiny homes might make a tremendous difference."
In Austin, Texas, tiny home developments like the Community First! Village are indeed making a big difference in providing dignity, a support system, and a financial foothold for local disabled, chronically homeless persons. Designed as a two-way street for both village residents and the Austin community to come together for "empowerment, renewed purpose, and community service," Community First! is a 27-acre master planned community featuring an innovative mix of housing options, including 120 micro-homes, 100 RVs and 20 canvas-sided cottages, plus community services (including a craftsman smithy shop, a food truck, and other skills training and micro-business opportunities), walking trails, medical facilities, gardens and farmer's market — even an outdoor movie theater in partnership with the Alamo Drafthouse.