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Greensboro’s inclusive take on the Tiny House Movement

By: Jessica Clifford

United States capitalism has endorsed one way of life: the American Dream. The white picket fence, a two-story house and property for children to play in, are necessities for many homeowners. This notion was not always the case, prior to this many people lived in tiny houses and lived simple lives. Millennials have welcomed back this modest lifestyle but in a new and inclusive way.

Real estate has shifted, and the Tiny House Movement is exciting for many people that crave downsizing and a minimalistic lifestyle. In Guilford and Forsyth County, there is the Belews Lake community, containing multiple houses that average 400 square feet, which is considered the largest square footage for a tiny house.

The movement has grown more over the past decade. Tiny House Listings, a real estate website solely for selling tiny houses, was created in North Carolina in 2010. Since then, the website branched out everywhere around the globe.

Another example of the movement’s outreach is on national broadcasts. The HGTV television series Tiny Houses, Big Living, which began airing in mid-December 2014, is still a hit show on the channel. The show’s success was a catalyst for other series featuring tiny houses as the main subject, such as Tiny House Hunters and Tiny House Builders.

Though part of the tiny house movement, the Belews lake community and others like it, are not financially equitable for those living at or close to the poverty line.

In 2012, Walter Jamison, a board member of the Interactive Resource Center in Greensboro, questioned the need for large houses in a meeting with fellow board members. While most of Greensboro’s IRC board agreed with his statement, many also questioned why so many people in Greensboro fight for affordable housing.

Both questions collided, and the board members began rolling out an idea to solve this issue. From this, the nonprofit Tiny Houses Greensboro was born, with its agenda geared toward renting houses for people that have experienced homelessness.

By 2015, a prototype of a tiny house was created and a board of chairs was established.

Now in 2017, the first of many tiny houses is complete, with the entire process of fundraising, development and construction performed by Weaver Academy. The second house, 288 square feet in size, was funded and is now being constructed by Starmount Forest Country Club.

Other than the first house, which contains a loft, the final five will have a single level floor-plan. Though Jon Dowell, Tiny Houses’ vice chair in construction insisted, “Our goal is not to make cookie-cutters, each [house] is going to have their unique style.”

Tiny Houses Greensboro is not limited to their selected property at 4120 Causey St. “I think our goal is to have a number of villages throughout the city to continue to provide affordable housing,” said Teri Hammer, the vice chair of Tiny Houses.

With this, an estimated eight to nine more villages are going to be built around Greensboro, containing an average of six houses per property. However, Hammer said the second piece of property is still needed, with the board’s hope that it will be donated to the cause.

Yet, Tiny Houses Greensboro is unique to the overall movement taking place across the United States because the nonprofit is placing their focus on affordability instead of minimalism.

Those applying to live in the houses must have experienced homelessness in the past and will be vetted by Greensboro’s Housing Coalition, the Servant Center and Youth Focus. The group is limiting two adult residents per house and hoping many can be used for individuals or a parent and child.

Based on the national average for housing spending, those selected are expected to have 30 percent of their monthly allowances taken for rent. Unlike Habitat for Humanity, Tiny Houses Greensboro only allows its residents to rent the houses and not own them.

Tiny Houses Greensboro is also different from the overall movement because it is 30 percent community funded and 100 percent voluntarily constructed. Though Tiny Houses has recently sent out for grants, it has yet to receive funding from them. Local companies have donated their labor in response to the group’s payment for materials. Some businesses that are part of the cause include Terry Elrod from Elrod Electric and Chuck Truby from CPT engineering.

Major support also comes from the local universities and high schools. One class at University of North Carolina Greensboro called “Communication and Community” taught by Spoma Jovanovic has six students assisting in the building process. Another student at UNCG, Jessica Ocasio, designed the architecture and floor plan of the current house being built.

Appreciative of those assisting the group, Hammer said, “Thank you for the community support so far, and we hope to continue to be supported by our community.”

For those looking to donate to Tiny Houses Greensboro, access Hammer’s Crowd Rise page online.

Though tiny houses have become a fad, Tiny Houses Greensboro has taken its popularity to a new level by creating affordable housing in the process.

“We are such an affluent nation, and we seem to have an affluent city, there seems to be an overwhelming number of people who can’t afford housing,” Hammer said. “This is one way we can make a difference.”

Tiny Houses Greensboro will continue to make a difference in housing; one hammered nail at a time.

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