Detroit’s First Tiny Homes Neighborhood: 10 Takeaways From Ford-Cass Community Project

DETROIT ‑ Ford Motor Company and Cass Community Social Services are making a big impact with Detroit’s first tiny homes neighborhood.

Ford is giving $400,000 toward the $1.5 million project ‑ a neighborhood revitalization plan aimed at providing housing for low- and moderate-income residents. Twenty-five tiny homes are planned for a two-block area. Cass Community Social Services unveiled the first completed tiny home, a 300-square-foot Tudor-style home on Elmhurst Street, to the media and community representatives on Thursday, Sept. 8.

“Cass Community’s tiny homes project presents an opportunity to make a big difference in an underserved Detroit neighborhood,” said Jim Vella, president, Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services. “Ford has a proud legacy of giving back to Detroit and Southeast Michigan, and this type of transformational project aligns with our mission of making people’s lives better through innovation.”

In Detroit and southeast Michigan alone, Ford and Ford Motor Company Fund are ramping up their philanthropic efforts. Ford and Ford Fund are expected to contribute $20 million to local educational, arts, cultural, diversity, hunger relief and social service organizations this year. That’s a 70 percent increase from the annual giving amount five years ago.

Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director, Cass Community Social Services, also shared more details about this first-of-its-kind project.

Here are 10 things Ford employees should know about the endeavor:

  1. How tiny is a tiny home? The homes in the community will range from 250 to 400 square feet on 30-by-100-foot lots. They’ll also be architecturally distinct. Many items on and in the first completed home were donated, including the shingles, exterior stones, granite countertops and more. “Often people are renovating a kitchen or a bathroom and they have extra tile, they have extra counters. We can use that. It saves us money and gives us a really good, quality product but we only need a little bit,” Fowler said. Most of the homes will also have a front porch or a rear deck.
  2. How is this project unique? The project is set up as a rent-to-own model. Cass doesn’t know the final costs yet, but they’re estimating the tiny homes will cost about $40,000-$50,000 each. Residents will pay monthly according to the size of their home - $250 per month for 250 square feet, $350 per month for 350 square feet and so on. Residents who stay for seven years will have the opportunity to own the home and the property. Residents will also pay for their electricity costs, which include heat. “As far as I know we’re the only ones doing it this way in the country, so it’s a novel approach to ending poverty,” Fowler said.
  3. What’s the link to Ford? Vella said the Cass tiny homes project is a game-changer. The innovative nature of the project was a natural tie to Ford. “This is another way that we can help make peoples’ lives better, not only the ones who live in this home but the ones who live in this neighborhood,” Vella said. There hasn’t been construction in the transitional neighborhood in a long time.
  4. Can this project be expanded? The Cass tiny homes neighborhood is already drawing attention. Fowler said she’s already fielded questions from other cities in Michigan and across the country that are looking into tiny home communities. If the project works here, Vella said it may have applications for the rest of Detroit and even the rest of the world. “Now that we’re global as Ford Volunteer Corps and a company that’s really important to us to be able to replicate those projects,” he said.
  5. Where did the idea originate? Fowler said she first got the idea for the project after the death of her mother. “When my mom died, we inherited things, and all of a sudden I started thinking that if you’re poor, you never inherit anything,” she said. “Not that you want your parents to die, but when they do, you probably inherit money or a home or a car. Yet poor people, when someone dies they struggle just to bury them. So I began thinking, is there a way that we can put together a program where they would start to have assets.” That led to tiny homes.
  6. What’s the project timeline? Fowler said foundation work has already started on the next six homes, and they’re aiming to have the first seven residents move in during October or early November. So far Cass has raised about $700,000 toward the $1.5 million project goal. The rest of the houses will be built as the funds are available. Fowler said they’ve been overwhelmed by donors’ generosity. A little girl even raised $25 at a lemonade stand because she thought homeless people should have houses.
  7. Who will live there? The residents will all be low income and will have to qualify to live in the homes using U.S. Department of Housing guidelines. They’ll go through a criminal background check, and their work and rental histories will be examined. They’ll also be interviewed. “This is a program about aspirations. This isn’t just a housing program,” Fowler said.
  8. Why not rehab houses for people to live in? Fowler said that’s something the group has done before and will continue to do, but there are 300 vacant lots within a mile of the site. Only one badly damaged home was demolished to make way for the tiny home community. “So we’re re-populating or re-neighboring a neighborhood,” she said. “We saw value in that, not only for the residents but for the community at large.”
  9. How can employees get involved? About 30 Ford Volunteer Corps members were on hand for landscaping work Wednesday and Thursday, laying sod, planting, mulching and more. Vella said the Ford Volunteer Corps hopes to do that on every one of the 25 homes. Employees who want to get involved can give their time through the Ford Volunteer Corps, or even donate money or items individually through the Cass Community Social Services website.
  10. You can stay involved: Follow the progress of the project on the Cass Community website.

Click here to get more details on the project, plus Ford and Ford Fund’s community investments.

Tiny Homes Detroit-Ford Fund, Cass Community Social Service-Sept 2016
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