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A Tiny House Experiment

A Tiny House Experiment

[intro-text size=”25px”]The tiny house movement is taking the nation by storm, and it’s making its way to Cleveland. Imagine the smallest New York City studio apartment you can think of and put it on wheels. Toss all of the materialistic garbage, pack the essential stuff into a Chinese take­out container, and you have the tiny house lifestyle.[/intro-text]

These miniature dwellings are now common on the West Coast, but are increasing in popularity across the nation, including Cleveland. The only thing holding the movement back is zoning laws; in Cleveland, the minimum square footage for a single family home is 950 square feet, while tiny homes can range anywhere from 80 to 800 square feet.

You’re probably wondering why anyone would want a house that tiny—who the hell would want to live like that? Sure, these tiny homes are aesthetically pleasing, offer a myriad of impressive tiny features, and can even become mobile, but we shouldn’t lose sight of their true purpose; they’re affordable, can be situated almost anywhere, and provide solutions for an ever growing population and city. These homes give young professionals and lower­ to middle­class people more housing options. They can be financed for the price of an apartment and owned within a few short years, or even bought outright, foregoing a mortgage all together. Utility bills also drop dramatically; many who already own these tiny homes boast single­ digit heating and cooling bills. Some have even gone completely off grid using solar power, collecting rainwater, and composting their waste. In addition to being financially feasible, these homes provide a solution to all of the wasted space Cleveland has laying around. Vacant or abandoned lots deemed “unsuitable” for other types of construction, and spaces too small to fit a traditional home, can now be utilized for tiny homes. These tiny houses won’t only be a fantastic addition to an awesome city, they can also have a huge impact on the growth of Cleveland as a community.

This is the goal of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO), which has teamed up with Citizens Bank to take on a project called Tiny House Experiment Cleveland. Citizens Bank donated $140,000 to DSCDO, in conjunction with Cleveland EcoVillage, to build a 583-square-foot pilot house in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. An interview with the project manager of Tiny House Experiment Cleveland, Adam Davenport, gives us an inside glimpse into Cleveland’s tiny house future.

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Citizens Bank and why they have an interest in tiny houses? And why they chose Cleveland? They are a national bank after all.
Citizens Bank approached us late last year about this project. They were formerly Charter One, they were doing a rebranding, and they wanted to get involved in a project in the neighborhood and specifically the EcoVillage area. We applied for some funding and they reached out to us and that’s how it originated. Together this started out as a true experiment to see if we could do a project like this because it’s never been done before in Cleveland, or Ohio for that matter. There are a few people around the area that have tiny houses on trailers, but none have built them on permanent foundations. From there we started exploring sites around the 65th rapid station and a few other areas. We looked at some designs, however we had specific requirements we wanted to get out of it such as an option for first floor living. We wanted to buy the plans off the shelf, we didn’t really want to design the entire thing by ourselves, but we wanted to modify it—designing an entire house is a huge undertaking. It also had to be appropriate to fit on the site as well as provide most of the common household amenities you normally see. And Citizens is a national bank, but they have been located in Cleveland for some time now. They have an office downtown and one of their outreach directors for public relations and involvement lives in the neighborhood. They knew about us and they knew what we wanted to do around the EcoVillage area, so it was an easy partnership in that respect.

Cleveland obviously has some tough zoning laws for tiny houses. Anything considered a single family home has to be 950 square feet or larger. Councilman Matt Zone has outwardly expressed his interest in the tiny house movement and amending these zoning laws. Has he made any progress with this, and how are you guys working with this problem?
His role has definitely been connecting us with the proper people at the city. We have had many meetings with city planning officials and also have a design review, and we have a more formal committee meeting with the board of zoning appeals in the near future about this small problem. They were very open to it from the start because what it does, essentially, is bring permanent residence to the city, so in that respect, they have been all for it. We will need to get a variance for the house size, we will probably need to get a variance for the lot size also because it will be smaller than what is typically a single family lot. We actually might need a couple more variances, but for the most part, our partners have been very open with this idea and trying to get it to work.

You mentioned previously that you guys aren’t designing the house, so are you contracting through a tiny house development company?
We are using Tumbleweed [Tiny House Company] Whidbey design. It’s one of their few cottage designs, and most of their designs are on a trailer. We have modified it to make it more modern. We did a marketability study a couple months ago where we sent out a survey and received around 300 responses. We also did some focus groups where we asked people what they would want to see in a tiny house, and the contemporary design was one of the things we saw most from those. We took a different approach where we modified the roof line so we would have greater sun ray access during the winter and summer months. We also wanted to heat and cool this home for a very low cost, so we are thinking and hoping for around $500 per year with the help from a mini ­split system. We are also looking at solar for the roof as well, and on the outside using permeable pavers for the split driveway.

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How many houses are going to be built, and where? ­
We are going to build two houses to start. One house we will hold for a period of time and let people rent it out like Airbnb, kind of vacation style, so if people are interested in trying this out as viable option or they are just really interested in it, then they can rent it for the weekend or for a few days. They will be located on 58th and Pear Avenue.

And the other one will be up for sale?
Yeah, owner occupant. The second house will be financed by Sutton Builders who is our contracting developer. They have done a lot of work in Tremont mainly and have had an interest in a project like this for quite some time, so we felt that they would lend a huge hand in making this a successful project. They will finance and build the second home and sell it.

What kind of impact or results are you guys hoping this project will have in the Cleveland area?
We definitely hope that it can be replicated, that’s the ultimate goal. Since the foreclosure crisis, and certainly since some of the neighborhoods in Cleveland have started to rebound, there are very hot markets in Tremont and Ohio City. We’re starting to see a lot of that. We’re also starting to see the rehabilitation of old homes and new construction projects like Battery Park and Breakwater Bluffs over on 58th, north of Detroit Avenue. However, we also want to see a lot of infill development on our vacant lots south of Bridge, so this is definitely a chance to see some of those lots that have been disregarded because they’re smaller sizes and can’t be used as a normal buildable lot, normal buildable lot, which is usually 30-by-120 or 40-by-140. Ultimately, we want to set a precedence for a different design approach where you can build a great house on a smaller sized lot.

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