Tiny homes draw big interest, open for tours in Detroit

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — The marble shower stall, dove gray walls and granite kitchen countertops are a real estate dream.

But it doesn’t stop there. Industrial-chic lighting. Shiny black kitchen appliances.

And it gets better. Someone with a low to moderate income soon will move into this sparkling new house.

But it's tiny, like 317-square-feet tiny.

What's known as the JBJ Soul House at 1553 Monterey is one of six tiny homes being prepared for ownership by the Cass Community Social Services’ Tiny Homes Detroit Community. And they'll be seen on tour Friday through Sunday for those curious. 

The 317-square-foot JBJ Soul House is among the new tiny homes at Cass Community Social Services’ campus in Detroit.

The community in the Dexter Linwood neighborhood aims to provide permanent housing to those with an annual income between $7,000 and $15,000 who ordinarily could not afford a home. Some tiny homes already are inhabited on Monterey, Richton and Cortland.

"There was nothing here," said Cass Community Executive Director Faith Fowler with a sweeping gesture as she spoke at a podium on Monterey Street with the newest tiny houses across the street behind her.

"This was all virgin land, and now people come by every day taking selfies and interrupting our contractors."

"I hate them," she added, laughing, while those attending the press conference laughed along with her.  

Each tiny home has solar power, as Cass Community Social Services is actively installing solar all over its campus and has plans to introduce solar farms to help the larger community. The solar arrays for the tiny homes were paid for by General Motors' corporate giving program.

This tiny homes community will eventually have 25 tiny homes ranging from 250-400 square feet on 30-foot-by-100-foot lots. So far, Fowler said there are 19 tiny homes. Their proximity to the Cass campus will allow residents to take advantage of most of its educational, recreational and social activities.

The interior of the 226-square-foot Brick House includes a kitchen, small table and storage chest.

The homes were revealed to the media Thursday, which kicked off three days of fundraising tours.

Many partners made these homes possible, including rocker Jon Bon Jovi, one of the financial contributors, and Epitec, a certified minority-owned, technology-driven staffing agency. They raised $240,000 for the homes.

Epitec President Josie Sheppard said the company wanted to do something different to celebrate its 40th anniversary instead of investing money in a party.

"I am so, so honored to be able to be part of this because it is breaking the cycle of poverty," she said. "To be able to be a homeowner is so impactful, and it is changing the lives of people."

Among the volunteers who helped make it happen were students from the Birmingham First United Methodist Church. Fowler said they fundraised $40,000.

The 345-square-foot Farm House has a small loft space.

On site Thursday, some of the high school students from Cranbrook Schools were delivering a love seat to a 345-square-foot home they made possible at 1551 Monterey.

“We wanted to raise as much money as possible to build this house,” said Nicholas Ludwig, 17, who will be a senior at Cranbook Schools in the fall, and is a member of the Birmingham First United Methodist Church.

He was standing inside the house for the first time since the loft and pavement were added.

“It’s very satisfying and makes you feel even better about yourself because we’re not only making a difference in the community where you live but also for the community surrounding you for the greater good,” Ludwig said.

Gabriel Ervin, 17, also an incoming senior at Cranbrook Schools and a member of Birmingham First United Methodist Church, helped bring the love seat into a tiny house on Thursday.

“It is an amazing feeling to know you helped build a house and helped someone to get on their feet,” he said. “It really is an honor to give this gift to someone.

“It’s only step one of a great life they get to build.”

Epitec executives Anthony Hollaman, from left, Rebecca Bray and Josie Sheppard; Cass Community Social Services head Faith Fowler and Epitec CEO Jerry Sheppard and COO Mark Roma gather for the ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday.

Cass Community Social Services began developing the tiny homes project in 2016 to address both the affordable housing shortage in the city and to create a path to homeownership.

They purchased 25 parcels of land from the City of Detroit and secured unique architectural plans ranging from 250 to 400 square feet, some with distinctive exterior colors, such as pale yellow, sky blue, or traditional brick, with unique design elements.

No government money has been used to construct the homes. Instead, private donations from foundations, corporations, religious organizations, individuals and fundraisers have been used to underwrite the development.

Tenants pay affordable rent and electricity — pegged at $1 per square foot of the tiny house — while Cass uses their rent money to cover property taxes, insurance, security systems, water bills and repairs. After seven years, renters will be granted the deeds to their homes.

Fowler said the next phase will be to build homes for families and homes compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Asked what she gets out of doing this for others, she said, “When my mom died, I got a house, and I want others to feel cared for and to have the security of having a house.”

She added, “I do it in her honor.”

If you go

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 1 p.m.-6 p.m. Sunday

Where: 1564 Monterey, Detroit 

Tickets: $75 each or two tickets for $100, which can be purchased at www.Casscommunity.org. Proceeds from the tours will support the continued expansion of Tiny Homes Detroit Community.