Construction has started on five more tiny homes in Cass Tiny Homes, a first-of-its-kind development on the city’s west side for low-income residents that has attracted international attention and will one day include 25 houses on two-and-a-half blocks.

The next five houses – all of which will be less than 500 square feet when finished – are being funded by the GM Foundation and some local churches. They should be finished in the next five months, though it will depend on weather, volunteers and other factors, said the Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services, which is spearheading the project.

“The houses will be right behind us, in a row,” said Fowler, standing on Richton Street on Monday, just west of the Lodge freeway near Elmhurst.

The first six houses of Cass Tiny Homes, or Tiny Homes Detroit, were finished this summer and residents moved in late August. Each house is rent-to-own over a seven-year period and rent during that period is $1 per square foot. Residents include two low-income seniors, a college student who aged out of foster care and someone who receives disability.

In the newest round of construction, GM plans to fund two houses (and a third house in the round after that). Its $135,000 commitment is part of a new initiative with Cass called Women in Motion, aimed to help women move up economically. All women volunteers from GM also will help build the houses.

“This program – working with Cass Community Social Services – is very specific,” said Lori Wingerter, chief philanthropic officer with General Motors. “Our program specifically targets women in the city of Detroit. And we chose to look at women and have them be a part of this because we all know women are the backbone of the family. Women won’t just get a house. They’ll also learn about financial stability. They’ll be on a neighborhood committee. It’s about rebuilding the community.”

Cass’s Fowler came up with the idea of building tiny homes as a model for low-income housing after her mother died and left her a home in northern Michigan. It made her realize how rarely low-income residents have assets.

Each tiny home costs approximately $50,000 to build, though a significant percentage of labor and materials is donated, said Fowler. And while critics question the cost, Fowler said it costs a lot more to renovate a house in Detroit. Cass renovated a 41-unit apartment building that cost more than $10 million.

A tiny house “is about the cost of a luxury car and it’s half the cost of a Habitat home,” said Fowler. “And if you look at low-income tax credit deals, residents have spent over $300,000 to rehab a one-bedroom unit – approximately the same amount of space for much more money.”

And each house is architecturally different so residents will take pride in these homes, Fowler said. One of the new homes in the latest round of construction will be shaped like a lighthouse and will be visible from the Lodge freeway.

“I believe that far too often poor people, or low-income people, are forced to live in ugly spaces,” said Fowler. “They’re bland and identical and unattractive and they don’t inspire folks to be proud of where they live. So we wanted each house to be different inside and outside.”

The deveopment represents a change of thinking in many ways, said Roger Wolcott, chair of Cass Community Social Services Board of Director. It’s a change in looking at the amount of space people need to live in and also integrating people who’ve faced challenges back into the community.

“This is a community,” said Wolcott. “That’s what we’re developing again. We’re developing a village that’s integrated into the city. And to do another plat subdvision doesn’t do it.”

Residents for the next five homes haven’t been selected yet, though the application period is closed, said Fowler. More than 120 people completed applications for the development and more than 900 people have asked to go on a waiting list.

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Twitter: @mfeighan

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