Tiny homes provide answer to big problems

Construction of the three new Cass Community Social Services Tiny Homes in Detroit, MI on Wednesday, August 1. The new tiny homes are located on the lots near John C Lodge Service Drive and Woodrow Willson. Photo by Jazmin Goodwin.


NABJ Monitor

DETROIT —Tiny houses in the U.S. have become such a popular trend that HGTV has several shows all about young hipsters obsessed with finding a tiny home of their own. But in Detroit, tiny houses serve a far greater purpose for residents: a viable alternative for those in need of shelter.

“Tiny houses expand our housing options in Detroit in a unique way for people transitioning out of homelessness and in a way can’t afford a rental unit,” explained Mary Sheffield, City Council president pro tem.

The tiny homes are not only for those who were once homeless, but also provide respite for individuals formerly incarcerated, high school and college students who have aged out of foster care and senior citizens.

Funded in part by companies like Ford and GM, tiny homes in Detroit allow people who may have rented their living spaces for the majority of their life to have something to call their own—a home.

Cass Community United Methodist Church, and now Cass Community Social Services, have worked with low-income and no income residents for decades since the Great Depression.

The Rev. Faith Fowler, the executive director of Cass and author of “Tiny Homes in a Big City,”  said her organization has gone above and beyond the houses themselves by providing food, jobs and healthcare to the tiny home residents.  

“Individuals living in the tiny homes get to become homeowners after renting the homes for seven years,” Fowler said. “They are free to do what they want with their homes after that, and it provides them with residential stability.”

In her book, Fowler describes wanting “to provide a springboard for folks making as little as $9,000 a year for whom the American Dream was elusive at best.”

Fowler hopes to help people overcome economic hurdles with the tiny homes and in the process build stability for generations to come.

Owning a tiny home may not be the cup of tea for those who enjoy their massive material possessions. The houses are, indeed, tiny, with most between 250 and 400 square feet, but they are sturdy, Fowler said.

Cass Community depends on volunteer help to build the tiny homes, which can take up to five months.  

“A general contractor to build a foundation, framing, roof, electricity, drywall, flooring, all that stuff can be done in five months if you use volunteers,” Fowler said. “If you have professionals, you can build the home in five weeks, but it’s a lot more money that way.”

Vince McGraw, president of the Detroit Chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, said that home prices in the “New Detroit” are at an all-time peak. “Downtown and midtown prices are now astronomical for renters, and even for homeowners,” he said.

While downtown and midtown residents enjoy the “New Detroit,” residents of the tiny home community also gets a chance to enjoy a piece of the “American Dream.”

Stephanie Donaldson, ambassador of the tiny homes at Cass Community Social Services, is hoping Detroit residents will become a part of this project, to reach back to those in their community.

Donaldson’s greatest reward since working with Fowler, who is also her pastor at Cass Community United Methodist Church, has been seeing tiny home residents get their piece of the American Dream.

“Seeing people who have never owned a home become homeowners after seven years: It gives the feeling of ‘you can own this,’ this can be your property to do with what you like,” Donaldson said.

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