Bluff Street Village: Tiny Homes, Big Hearts

. April 15, 2020.
A model of what Bluff Street will look like upon completion of the Bluff Street Village project. Rendering courtesy Bluff Street Village.
A model of what Bluff Street will look like upon completion of the Bluff Street Village project. Rendering courtesy Bluff Street Village.

Bluff Street is a ghost town. Every lot stands empty, with all but one uninhabited home now demolished. Like many streets in the Monroe/Auburn neighborhood in which it resides, it has suffered from decades of poverty, blight, and disinvestment.

Across from Bluff Street are two entities that took notice. Monroe Street United Methodist Church and its ministry, the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center, decided they could no longer watch as urban decay ate away at the core of the neighborhood. While searching for possible solutions, they happened upon the work of Cass Community Social Services in Detroit, which had managed to bolster an impoverished neighborhood by building a village of “tiny homes.”

Top: Bluff Street in its current state.  Photo courtesy Bluff Street Village. Bottom: A model of what Bluff Street will look like upon completion of the Bluff Street Village project. Rendering courtesy Bluff Street Village.

Top: Bluff Street in its current state. Photo courtesy Bluff Street Village. Bottom: A model of what Bluff Street will look like upon completion of the Bluff Street Village project. Rendering courtesy Bluff Street Village.

Size Isn’t Everything

A “tiny home”, put simply, is a house that takes up an area of 400 square feet or less. Initially gaining popularity in the United States following the 2008 mortgage crisis, tiny homes have since become in vogue as an innovative way to address the dual problems of both affordable housing and environmental sustainability. Programs like Tiny House, Big Living on HGTV and Tiny House Nation on A&E showcase their many creative designs and uses.

For Clara Petty, Executive Director of the Monroe Street Neighborhood Center, a village of tiny homes like what Cass had developed in Detroit was precisely the sort of solution that could lift up many of the residents in the Monroe/Auburn neighborhood – 46% of which live below the poverty line. “We wanted to give an opportunity for homeownership to those on fixed incomes, to empower them to build their own equity and have something to call their own.”

(L-R) A model of what a Bluff Street Village tiny home's front-facing exterior will look like, and a model of what the tiny home's rear-facing exterior will look like.  Renderings courtesy Bluff Street Village.

(L-R) A model of what a Bluff Street Village tiny home’s front-facing exterior will look like, and a model of what the tiny home’s rear-facing exterior will look like. Renderings courtesy Bluff Street Village.

Petty’s experiences as a licensed social worker (LSW) had shown her that low-income housing opportunities are both in short supply and laden with red tape— rendering them inaccessible to many struggling Toledoans. She realized that a program with no barriers and a clear path to ownership could be a game-changer, and that the low cost, high-quality nature of tiny homes made just such a development economically viable.

Along with Larry Clark, Pastor at Monroe Street United Methodist Church, Petty connected with local planners and architects to work out the details. Using a standard certified plan, they figured that each home would cost $50,000 to build— inclusive of material, labor, land, and fees. They also determined that by working with the Lucas County Land Bank to acquire the empty lots, they could construct as many as 24 tiny homes along Bluff Street. Encouraged by these findings, they decided to move forward— and so, the Bluff Street Village was born.

Better Living Through Tiny Homes

So, what will prospective tenants have to look forward to?

Each tiny home will be all-electric, with built-in solar panels reducing the amount consumed from the grid and lowering electric bills (estimated to be no more than $50/month). Homes will be rented at a cost of $400/month ($1 per square foot) for seven years, at which time the renter will be given full ownership of the property. To be eligible, individuals must make no more than $18,000/year at the time they apply, must participate in tenant association meetings, and must attend monthly workshops addressing matters such as home maintenance, repairs, and budgeting. 

Funding the initial home construction remains an obstacle. Because of the failure of some high-profile development projects in the inner city and the decline of community development corporations, traditional investment sources are not in play. However, using grassroots fundraising and a traveling presentation, the first two homes have already found sponsorship. Both are on track to be built and ready for move-in this year.

“Bluff Street Village is about empowerment and assisting people who struggle to have quality housing,” said Clark. “It will change the lives of the people who live there.” 

For more information, please visit www.bluffstreetvillage.org. If you know of an individual, organization, or church interested in sponsoring a tiny home or providing skilled volunteer labor, please contact Pastor Larry Clark at (419) 473-1167 or contactus@bluffstreetvillage.org.