Rebuilding Dayton in small steps: Micro houses

I’ve worked on more than a few Habitat for Humanity builds. I think that Habitat is a noble organization. But, I think that the answers to our problem with homelessness, with affordability, and with repopulating Dayton are that we’re still trying to use yesterday’s paradigms for today’s problems.

It’s a question of size. I live in a castle by the standards of many in Europe, Asia and NYC. My house was super affordable- $14,500 purchase price in 1986 (but don’t worry, thanks to the Wizards of Wall Street, the house 2 doors down from me, that’s actually bigger sold for $14,000 a few years ago). As one New Yorker said to me- “that’s what I pay for my parking space for a year.”

Dayton has a glut of vacant houses, with a 29-year back supply to demolish. We can’t demolish our way to prosperity (Nan Whaley is all about tearing down houses- which doesn’t solve the fundamental problems of the City- it just solves the neighbors’ problem- if they can wait 29 years). What we have to do is find new ways to build our population and tax base. We have to strengthen our neighborhoods by filling them up- not b tearing them down. One of the answers, I believe, is micro housing.

Alternative Housing Options

My cousin, the world-traveling architect, was enamored with his NYC apartment in Park Slope in the early 90’s- it was 300 square feet, and only $1,200 a month in rent. In a year in Dayton he could have bought  my house.

NYC has people paying a million dollars to buy apartments that are under 900 sq feet. It’s perfectly possible to live in something way smaller than my 1,700 square-foot house- and a lot more affordable when you think small.

Unfortunately, we have laws in place, foisted on us by the construction industry, the insurance industry, and probably the Real Estate industry that preclude the construction of homes under 900 square feet, and with minimum lot sizes. It’s probably impossible to even set up a lot smaller than 1/4 acre in the County Auditor’s database for tax valuation. This is America- we live large. But, when you’re a homeless person trying to transition to a home, the utilities alone can equal the rent for a 900 sq.-foot home, so we have to rely on social welfare systems to subsidize the outsized home.

I’ve talked about SRO before- or Single Room Occupancy, the kind of housing that immigrants who flocked to this country last century often used as starter housing. It’s where you rent a room, maybe with a sink and a toilet, maybe not, but shared a kitchen, a shower, etc. In Dayton, these are called rooming houses and they are illegal- unless of course you are the University of Dayton, and it’s called “student housing” where you charge by the room by the semester and make a killing. SRO would be one way to start bringing back housing and creating opportunity- but, it’s not the same as getting someone into something they own. That’s theirs- that they can take pride in.

 

Photo of tiny house community

From www.thisisthelittlelife.com a tiny house community

Micro houses  are inexpensive small houses, that can be affordable and easy to manage for people transitioning from homelessness, or downsizing, or as a temporary option when foreclosure strikes.  They don’t have to be boring small boxes as you’ll see if you look at some of the designs in architecture competitions or browse the Tiny House Blog or The Tiny Life. Often, they’ve been built out of found materials. It’s not just a small house, it’s a new way of life. But, this is where it gets interesting: we have the materials and a unique manufacturing facility in Dayton to begin building these today.

James Kent, or Architectural Reuse Company has deconstructed over 200 homes in Dayton using ex-offender labor. The materials he’s harvested could have easily built over 1,000 LEED Certified micro homes, where we can provide a low-cost base of operations for those re-entering the workforce. Not only could we provide housing that’s affordable to minimum wage workers, but, we’re preventing materials from going into landfills and creating energy efficient homes all at the same time. The homes could be built on the computerized wall panel assembly line now owned by Vaughn Interior Concepts that used to belong to the ISUS charter school. Craig Vaughn is working with the VA and veterans groups to turn the plant into a Veterans re-training facility. (full disclosure- both ARC and VIC are clients of my firm The Next Wave)

An entire genre of these homes were designed for post-Hurricane Katrina- the Cusato Cottages were a better option than the FEMA trailers that the government came up with.

The micro housing could be installed on larger blocks that have low occupancy, or in former industrial sites. By drilling a few wells, we could heat and cool the entire complex with geothermal energy and cut utility bills even more. Building one shared space for socialization and joint laundry facilities, workout area, and space for yard tools, bicycle storage etc., with a shared fiber internet node would further advance the desirability and value of these new housing options. Include a community garden and hoop house, and even food costs are cut.

Tie in the addition of a bike share system, and you’ve now eliminated another major expense for those living at the poverty line or below, because cars are the second most expensive part of most people’s living expense- tied with health-care costs.

We’d have to change a bunch of rules to make these micro homes a possibility, including the requirements of “graded lumber” as an acceptable building material for the insurance industry. We’d also have to determine if these homes are going to be treated the same as houses or as trailers/manufactured homes- a deed or a title? As it is, banks probably won’t loan on these properties causing us to find creative ways to finance them. But, when you offset the social subsidies required for full-sized homes for the operational costs, or the considerably higher taxes and or total price of a conventional home, it may be a much more efficient solution to housing.

Also note, these aren’t just for low-income people, these are potentially a way for seniors to downsize efficiently, and for single mobile workers to live without being tied to an anchor of a mortgage or maintenance of a larger home.

SRO and micro houses are actually a return to the kinds of housing that enabled America to prosper in the last two centuries, Dayton could become the role model for how it’s done in this century.

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17 Responses

  1. Diane March 4, 2013 / 10:02 am
    I love these tiny houses! I would live in one in a minute…as long as you can fit in a clothes washer and dryer. I don’t do laundromats. LOL
    In 2010, we downsized from 4000 SF to 1950 SF. Taxes and utility bills are so much lower now, and I can clean the whole place in an hour and a half. When my teenagers move out in a few years, even 1950 SF will be too big for me and the Doberman.
    Doubt you could ever get suburban zoning boards to allow this type of housing, but I think it would make perfect sense in a city. Of course, you will have NIMBY opponents as well as push back from the industries you already mentioned above.
    Sad and frustrating that human beings find it so difficult to accept innovation and change.

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  2. David Esrati March 4, 2013 / 12:25 pm

    @Diane- Thank you for adding your personal experience to this. My parents are very happy in their 850 sq ft “shotgun cottage” although it’s about 2x bigger than what I’m envisioning here.

    Of course, it couldn’t be built today.

    The washer and dryers in Europe are smaller- some even do both. They’ve started to show up here.

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  3. Chase March 5, 2013 / 9:25 pm
    I think that, ideally, neighborhoods would have a good blend of tiny, “starter” (900-1100 sqft), and some larger homes.  I envision a neighborhood where, once I outgrow my bachelor pad, get married, etc., I can actually find a bigger house in the same area, still being close to my friends and neighbors. Maybe I’m taking up woodworking and I just want a modest house with a big garage (today’s zoning boards would have a fit). I wouldn’t have to change churches, schools, bus routes; I could just pick up and grow.
    Try ever getting that in a homogeneous suburb.

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  4. David Esrati March 5, 2013 / 11:28 pm

    @Chase- we already have neighborhoods that have a good mix of home sizes- South Park has them from 300sq feet to over 5000 sq feet. But, we’re not hurting for neighbors or have an abundance of empty lots. These micro houses would be used to start to repopulate neighborhoods where there aren’t enough residents or housing stock to justify keeping the lights on so to speak.

    You need people to make a neighborhood. Without them- things won’t turn around. The pride of ownership- even if it’s a micro home can be a great starting point- and microhomes won’t break anyones bank.

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  5. UrbanEconomists March 6, 2013 / 11:46 am
    “but don’t worry, thanks to the Wizards of Wall Street, the house 2 doors down from me, that’s actually bigger sold for $14,000 a few years ago”
     
    I am not getting how wall street had anything to do with setting housing prices in this manner.  May I suggest you explain this to me?   

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  6. Donald Phillips March 6, 2013 / 2:40 pm
    Dear Urban Economist,
    How dare you! Mr. Esrati doesn’t have to explain anything; he is a pure vessel for the conveyance of Richard Florida Thought! You have a lot to learn about Dayton!

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  7. Diane March 6, 2013 / 4:19 pm
    “You need people to make a neighborhood. Without them- things won’t turn around. The pride of ownership- even if it’s a micro home can be a great starting point- and micro homes won’t break anyone’s bank.”
    Unfortunately, if you put tiny houses in some of Dayton’s most blighted areas, the locals would simply hook them up to trailers and steal them away. How’d you like to come home from work and find *crickets* where your house used to be?

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  8. J Dziwulski March 18, 2013 / 7:33 pm
    Good one, David.
    Dayton actually has quite a few micro-houses in the surviving 19th century areas.  Various cottage types, like those “sawed off shotguns”.  In the olden days thats how housing was provided for the growing industrial working class.  Small, but with additions over time.
    his could be a housing type that could be marketed or sold as a micro-house, but also as a preservation move. 

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  9. ROBERT F. TAYLOR April 20, 2013 / 12:25 am
    REBUILDING TOGETHER ( AMERICA ) YOUR CITY AND COMMUNITIES ; I WANT TO THANK GOD , AND JOEY D. WILLIAMS AND NAN Whaley ; FOR LISTENING AND TAKING ON THE CHALLENGE ; WHAT THIS WORLD SAYS IS IMPOSSIBLE ; YOU AND I KNOW THAT TOGETHER WE CAN ; TAKE VICTORY OVER, TODAYS ( AMERICAS GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY )  TO BOOST THEE AMERICAN AND WORLD ECONOMY .  THEE 2013 GREAT AMERICAN GOLD RUSH …   RECREATING TOP PAYING JOBS ; BUILDING SPACIOUS QUALITY BUILT HOMES AND COMMERCIAL BUILDING .FROM SALVAGING , DEMOLITION TO REBUILDING NOT ONLY HOUSES ( homes ) ; BUT ALSO CORPORATE AMERICA AND INTERNATIONAL CORPORATIONS .  ( COMMUNITY AND CHURCH NI PARTNERSHIPS ) WITH AREA BANKS AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS ; SUCH AS RBS CITIZENS FINANCIAL GROUP ???  CAN WE MARCH INTO HISTORY TOGETHER ? WRITING , FILMING PROMOTING ; REBUILDING TOGETHER ( AMERICA ) YOUR CITY AND COMMUNITIES ? SUPPORTING JOBS AND HOMES FOR OUR HOMELESS , UNEMPLOYED CITIZENS , VETERANS AND EX-OFFENDERS ; THUS HELPING TO IMPROVE THEE QUALITY OF LIFE FOR THE GOOD AND THEE GREATER-GOOD OF ALL THEE MOST BEAUTIFUL MULTICULTURAL NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL CITIZENS; THROUGHOUT OUR MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY OF DAYTON , OHIO AND AMERICA THEE USA .. TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE THIS WORLD SAFE AND CRIME-FREE FOR YOU AND ME …  THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND I KNOW THAT YOU ARE LISTENING BECAUSE I CAN SEE YOUR WORK ;  RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED ; ROBERT FREDERICK TAYLOR I AM STANDING WITH YOU.

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  10. Dave C. April 21, 2013 / 9:26 am
    Go Robert! Go Robert! Go Robert!

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  11. ROBERT F. TAYLOR April 22, 2013 / 6:41 pm
    THANK YOU FOR RESPONDING TO MY VISION AND COMMITMENT TO NOT BUT ONLY . YES ;; NOT BUT ONLY THE CITIZENS OF DAYTON , OHIO  BUT ALSO THE CITIZENS THROUGHOUT THIS THEE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND GLOBAL NATIONS .  I TOOK THE TIME TO LISTEN AND READ YOUR ( WORK ) . NOW I MUST ASK FOR YOUR GUIDANCE IF YOU DO NOT MIND SHARING THE LIFE OF A WORKMAN WHO’S  DEEDS ( LABOR ) EXCEEDS HIS TALK .  I WOULD LIKE TO JOIN YOU IN NOT ONLY SALVAGING , DEMOLITION AND THEE REBUILDING OF THIS CITY OF DAYTON, OHIO BUT ALSO CITIES THROUGHOUT THIS UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ;   RECREATING JOBS BUILDING HOMES AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS ACROSS AMERICA AND AROUND THE GLOBE AT THE SAME TIME . NOT TALKING AND JUST TALKING . PLEASE UNDERSTAND I AM COMMITTED TO YOU AND EVERY CITIZEN THAT INHABITS THIS THEE PLANET EARTH . FREELY AND WILLINGLY SUBMITTING MY ALL TO GIVING THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON FREELY GIVING THEE GIFT OF LIFE.    EDUCATION , EMPLOYMENT THAT EQUALS ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT FOR EVERY ONE OF OUR NEIGHBORS AND FAMILIES . NO ONE LEFT BEHIND , NO ONE . LIFTING UP OUR COMMUNITY CHURCH’S CONGREGATION’S AND NEIGHBORING CITIZENS AND COMMUNITIES ; RECONCILING OUR FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS. REBUILDING TOGETHER ( DAYTON,OHIO AND AMERICA THEE USA ) YOUR CITY AND COMMUNITIES . IT’S YOUR CITY ???  ISN’T THAT THE TRUTH ?  BUILDING SPACIOUS QUALITY BUILT HOMES AND COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS ( SHARING THE WEALTH OF BLESSINGS THAT ARE NOW IN OUR HANDS ) THERE IS A GOLD-MINE IN YOUR COMMUNITY . ( THEE ( 2013 ) GREAT AMERICAN GOLD RUSH )  ???  REBUILDING TOGETHER SAFE , CRIME-FREE , INCORRUPTIBLE , SUBSTANCE-ABUSE FREE HOMES , SCHOOLS , CHURCH’S , WORKPLACES . SOCIAL CLUBS , PARKS AND FAMILY RECREATION PLACES .  EDUCATING , EMPLOYING AND RAISING UP A PEACEABLE PEOPLE AND NATION …I AM AN EX-OFFENDER AFTER SERVING NOT ONLY ELEVEN YEARS FOR STEPPING OUT ON MY OWN WITH( OHIO COMMUNITY REINVESTMENT PARTNERSHIPS )  . WHEN YOU ASK ABOUT ME , PLEASE LISTEN TO HOW THY TALK ABOUT ME . THEN LOOK AT YOUR CITY IMPROVEMENTS OVER THE LAST ( 11 ) ELEVEN YEARS ; I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS AND FOREVER . RESPECTFULLY  SUBMITTED ; ROBERT FREDERICK TAYLOR OHIO 419-557 BOP 20685-101 I JUST GOT OUT OF THE HALFWAY HOUSE . I AM AN OPEN BOOK , AND THE TRUTH IS MY ROCK . THANK YOU FOR LISTENING . AND INVESTING YOUR TIME . NOW CAN WE LEAD ; REBUILDING TOGETHER ( AMERICA ) FROM YOUR COMMUNITIES OF DAYTON , OHIO ACROSS THE WORLDS BEYOND US ? CAN WE ?  I HEARD ONE MAN SAY IT’S TO BIG ; NOTHING IS TO BIG FOR THOSE OF US WHO SEE THE NEEDS OF OUR FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS SUFFERING ON OUR STREETS HOMELESS AND UNEMPLOYED . THESE PEOPLE ARE SOMEBODIES FAMILY MEMBERS TO . AM I RIGHT ? , OR AM I WRONG ? HOW WILL WE ANSWER ?  BY RECREATING JOBS , REBUILDING TOGETHER OUR COMMUNITIES ;  THAT IS ONLY PART OF MY ANSWER WITH LOVE UNKNOWN TO THIS HUMAN-RACE .  THANK YOU AGAIN . PLEASE ANSWER ..

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  12. A Reader April 22, 2013 / 7:48 pm
    Two requests for Robert:
     
    1) Could you please learn to type in upper and lower case?
     
    2) Could you please learn what paragraphs are?
     
    TLDR: Who can read your long blocks of UPPER CASE?

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  13. Dave C. April 22, 2013 / 10:36 pm
    Robert: you mention that you “just got out of the halfway house”. It sounds like you are starting over. I know that everybody here wishes you all the best as you begin anew. Good Luck and God Bless!

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  14. ROBERT F. TAYLOR April 24, 2013 / 12:01 am
    Thank You For your response; I want To help Rebuild Dayton, Ohio America With You. Am I Asking too Much?  Respectfully Submitted; Robert Frederick Taylor      Shine Dayton , Ohio Shine  Writing Into History The Recreation Of jobs ; Starting With Salvaging , Demolition and Rebuilding .  Hear The Testimonies Of The Poor and Downtrodden On Their New job’s. In Their New Homes and Businesses ????  Filming,  Writing and Publishing Dayton City Leaders and Our Families and Neighbor Rebuilding Together Dayton ,Ohio America ?????? I am Committed.

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  15. Martin B September 23, 2016 / 10:44 am
    Hi David,

    I am interested in spearheading a project like this that houses the homeless in tiny homes but I don’t know where to start. Any suggestions on how to get something like this started?

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  16. David Esrati September 23, 2016 / 2:14 pm

    Hi Martin- there are some people pushing for tiny houses- and there are also local groups working on homelessness. I’d contact Kate Ervin- who works East End Community Services, Dave Bohardt at St. Mary’s Development, St. Vincent DePaul as starting points.

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