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Building up tiny houses to break down asset inequality

May 31, 2016

Soon, tiny houses will start popping up in Detroit. Construction on the first house is slated to begin within two weeks. The goal is to provide homes for some of the city’s homeless, senior citizens and students who have aged out of foster care.

Cass Community Social Services of Detroit is behind the project. Executive Director Reverend Faith Fowler said the plan is to build 25 houses on the vacant land surrounding the community center. That’s provided volunteer help and funding come through.

Hear Fowler talk about what this project could mean for people of low-income below.

Fowler said these houses will provide people with low incomes a valuable asset – one they can eventually sell, use as collateral, or leave to their families.

She said lately you hear a lot of talk about income inequality, “but next to none about asset inequality.” 

Another tiny home model.
Credit Cass Community Social Services of Detroit

“And without an asset, people easily slip into and stay in poverty,” she said. “And so if we can find ways for them to create a financial safety net, maybe through homes, maybe through savings accounts – I mean, there are many ways to approach it – but I really wanted to do something that had a long-term impact on poor people so that they could enjoy part of the American dream.”

In total, the project will cost around $1.5 million. Smaller homes will cost around $50,000 to build, while the larger ones will cost around $60,000.

And we’re not talking cookie-cutter, barracks-like houses. Fowler said each house is designed to be unique.

"By and large, it's a wonderful thing to see people gain their independence."

“We did that on purpose,” Fowler said. “I know we could build them all the same cheaper, but I’m not sure that’s what we want. We want people to have a sense of ‘my home is different and distinguished and attractive.’”

Many of the houses will be studios, some will have a bedroom attached and a couple will even have lofts.

The plan is to have a person rent the home for seven years at a “very modest amount” based on house size. 

“We then will act as the landlord during that time, using their rent money to pay their taxes, their insurance, their water, their security system,” Fowler said.

After seven years of renting, the resident will own the house.

“They won’t have to pay rent anymore and so they’ll be able to use that money to pay the things we were having to pay," she said. "And so we think we’ve set them up for success.”

This isn’t the first time Cass Community Social Services has provided accessible housing for low-income people. Hear Fowler discuss the impacts of a previous project – a rehabbed apartment building – and her expectations for the tiny house project here:

“By and large, it’s a wonderful thing to see people gain their independence," Fowler said.

To learn more and contribute to the tiny house project, click here.