A photo of a small house.

What are the Detroit Tiny Homes all about?

Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), a Detroit based agency dedicated to providing food, housing, health services and job programs obtained 26 lots in northwest Detroit for $15,000 from the city in 2016. Seven of the lots have completely built tiny homes on them, with six more to be completed by Memorial Day. All of the homes are completely unique from one another. 
The image often conjured of a tiny home is of a nice couple looking to downsize on a reality show. However, CCSS is building low footprint homes to assist low-income people.  
Residents pay $1 per square foot monthly (which can vary from $250-450) plus rent and utilities. If residents attend homeownership classes, meetings with a financial coach, and volunteer 8 hours within the community, in addition to paying rent, after seven years the tiny home is theirs free and clear. They are given the deed at that time, with the ability to sell or keep their home.  
“We wanted to give low-income people a chance to obtain an asset, to begin to establish wealth,” Reverend Faith Fowler of CCSS said. 
Before residents are able to enter the program, they must pass a vetting process that checks financial readiness, residential and criminal history, and references, as well as an in-person interview. 
In a city where blight and abandonment is present in many neighborhoods, new homes being built in the areas outside of the downtown core is not a common occurrence. Affordable housing for low-income people, as well as access the resources needed to excel financially as a homeowner, is also uncommon.

A photo of three people in a meeting.

Quinn Evans Architects Involvement

Financial and material donations, as well as volunteer labor, are the driving force behind building these homes. In some cases, people or entities are donating the materials and money for an entire home, but often homes are the result of multiple sources brought together by CCSS.  
Robert Berard (pictured above), a Senior Architect at the Quinn Evans Architects Detroit office, rallied our internal Giving Back Committee to submit designs for the homes. Of the six tiny homes slated to be built by Christmas 2018, several will be designs by teams of architects at QEA. 
Employees took time off-the-clock to meet and design usable, practical and affordable tiny homes. Berard hosted several design sessions with employees from our Detroit, Ann Arbor, and Washington, DC offices. After more than 20+ initial concepts were presented, the designs were narrowed down to six final concepts that employees teamed on to complete.  
Some of the questions that came up during the design process include: What do people think of when they picture a traditional Detroit home? What does owning compared to renting a home look and feel like? How can you make a small space feel spacious? How can you take advantage of natural light and other design components to keep costs down for the tenants?

A photo of two small houses.

Community Impact

The main goal of the tiny homes program is to allow people not often given the opportunity to build and keep equity. However, these homes are having an impact on the Dexter-Linwood neighborhood.  

It’s good for everybody. It’s good for the environment, obviously tiny homes have a small carbon footprint. It’s good for the renters to become home owners because of the asset aspect. It’s good for the neighborhood because 25 more lots will be filled with people. It’s good for the city because they will become tax payers. For the larger community, especially the homeless community to see that someone who used to be homeless now is a stakeholder in our neighborhood.”  
-Reverend Faith Fowler said in an interview with CNN

This rent-to-own-plus model has been so popular that for the first round of 25 homes had to cap applications after CCSS received over 1,000. Fowler is not stopping at just 25 homes. Fowler’s book, Tiny Homes in a Big City chronicles how the tiny homes effort is structured and allows any organization to replicate their model in any city.