Tiny Homes and Tiny Home Developments

At A Lee Dog Story, we believe that Tiny Home Developments are the solution to Memphis’ affordable housing crisis.

Although the rate of homelessness in Memphis has gone down by 40% in the last five years, there are still over 1,200 individuals and families without permanent, stable housing on any given night in our city and tens of thousands of additional families that are severely cost burdened and at risk of facing homelessness. 

Tiny homes are the cheapest, most sustainable, and most ecologically friendly solution to creating permanent, affordable housing in various neighborhoods in Memphis.

According to International Residential Code (IRC) Appendix Q, tiny homes are defined as a dwelling that is 400 square feet (37 sq m) or less in floor area excluding lofts. The IRD does allow for this definition to be expanded if the tiny home is created for a family instead of an individual. 

Tiny Home Developments are defined as self-managed communities of cost-effective tiny homes for people in need of affordable housing.

The Problem

The City of Memphis is facing a quality affordable housing crisis and community and city leaders must embrace creative, innovative solutions to solve it. Although the rate of homelessness in Memphis has gone down by 40% in the last five years, there are still over 1,200 individuals and families without permanent, stable housing on any given night in our city and tens of thousands of additional families that are severely cost burdened and at risk of facing homelessness. As the Memphis 3.0 Plan states, 

“Memphis households are severely cost burdened. With decreased federal housing funding and stagnant wages for low-income owners and renters, many need assistance. One in five Memphis families earn less than 80% of the HUD Area Median Family Income (HAMFI), a maximum of $47,972, and pay over half of their income to housing costs. Of these cost-burdened households, two-thirds are renters, making these families face even more obstacles to acquiring affordable housing.”

The 5-Year Shelby County Homelessness Plan goes into more specifics about Shelby County’s affordable housing crisis. 

“Affordable housing for homeowners and renters is the most significant housing need in Shelby County, and single family homeowners make up the greatest share of cost burdened households…The most common housing problem in the jurisdiction, by far, is affordable housing. Of the 17,855 households that experience one or more of the four housing problems, 13,900 households are cost burdened, paying more than 30% of their income towards rent. 7,910 households are severely cost burdened, paying more than 50% of their income towards rent.”

In the past decade, Shelby County and the City of Memphis have worked together to implement the ‘Continuum of Care,’ a community-wide, coordinated effort for assessing and addressing the housing and service needs of individuals and families that were experiencing homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness. This streamlined system has helped reduce the number of people experiencing housing instability in Memphis; however, the city and county still recognize the need for more and better public housing options. The Memphis 3.0 Plan directs the city and county government to… 

7.1.2 Create incentives and financial assistance for new, quality rental homes that preserves neighborhood character and supports the City land use plan.

7.1.5 Encourage housing development within affordable communities that serves a variety of income levels.

The Memphis 3.0 Plan has even promoted the development of alternative housing options, including hinting directly at the possibility for multiple, small lot houses on one plot of land.

7.1.12 Promote the construction of accessory dwelling units above garages and cottage/small lots to provide affordable housing options to accommodate future growth.
7.1.14 Advocate for state legislation to expand the definition of residential development to include more than two units to promote the development of the ‘missing middle’ housing.

The Solution: Tiny Home Developments

Tiny Home Developments will be adapted by A Lee Dog Story and community members to fit the character, size, and aesthetic of every neighborhood. A Lee Dog Story is committed to engaging with as many community members as possible before starting construction. Community members will have a say in a myriad of important decisions including, approving the resident contract, helping decide how the residents are chosen, determining whether the THD has a security fence and/or 24/7 security personnel on site, and more. We know that community support is critical to ensuring the success of each Tiny Home Development and we will not build in any community where we do not have significant support from neighborhood residents.

In addition to getting input from the community, we have chosen to keep the size of our THDs relatively small, only 3-7 homes, for several reasons. First, it allows for the THDs to be built in neighborhoods inside Memphis city limits, thus increasing density and available affordable housing units to communities that need both. Second, it helps to keep the THDs affordable and focused on providing housing for residents of the neighborhood. Third, it makes the property more manageable and sustainable. Fourth, a smaller size makes it easier to provide adequate security for its residents and the surrounding community. 

The vast majority of successful Tiny Home Developments built across the U.S. have included a Resident Contract, or an agreement between the residents, the tiny home developers, and the surrounding community, to ensure all parties commit to creating the best environment for the community. Our Resident Contract includes stipulations like requiring residents to contribute a certain number of hours per week to improving the community, agreeing to forgo drug and alcohol use while on the property, and more. Each community in which we build a THD, community members will have an opportunity to review and approve the Resident Contract. 

To see the first draft of our Resident Contract, please click here. 



At A Lee Dog Story, we are committed to providing housing for residents of the Memphis community that are currently experiencing homelessness or at risk of being homeless. With that mission in mind, we are also committed to providing a case worker to each of our residents. The case worker will meet regularly with the resident to ensure they are connected to the services they need, including job assistance and training, healthcare, access to government assistance, and more. In addition, case workers will employ the ‘asset-based approach’ to reinforce the belief in our residents that each of them have skills and abilities they can contribute to the community.

Tiny Home Developments embrace the dignity of its residents in several ways. First, it gives the residents a safe, warm, private place to place their belongings and return to each day. Second, it allows the residents to experience the freedom of having their own home. They can come and go as they please as long as they take care of their house and the surrounding property. Third, at each of the developments, the residents will be encouraged to become a full member of the beloved community, made up of the residents of the settlement and various members of the community. Each of our Tiny Home Developments will have a Community Center and regular community meetings to build relationships and discuss community issues. By giving our residents a place to call home, a greater sense of individualism and self agency, and a community to surround them with support, we build a beloved community in which our residents can flourish.

A Lee Dog Story TV docuseries aims to give residents of the Tiny Home Development a voice to share their experiences of life on the streets and their road to permanent, affordable housing. Through the power of film we will give our community and city a platform to speak on some of the causes and effects surrounding Memphis’ affordable housing and homelessness crisis and also causes and effects of homelessness. 

 

With the help of a National Media Network, we aim to help raise national awareness of some of the causes and effects surrounding homelessness, helping create a new paradigm on poverty and homelessness. 

 

Through our TV series, we aim to showcase our Tiny Home Community residents, volunteers, case workers, social workers, health care specialists, community leaders, neighbors, construction workers, artists and a community coming together to help bring a positive change.

Tiny Home settlements cost between $100,000 and $500,000, as opposed to the millions of dollars required to build a new emergency shelter. Tiny Home settlements are also a sustainable model. After living in the tiny home for a short period of time (3-6 months), residents are required to start paying a low monthly rent based on their income. Residents also help manage the property by helping with repairs, gardening, public art, and more. This will help reduce the cost of site maintenance, home maintenance, and more. In addition to the cost saving, Tiny Home Developments take only 4-6 months to build, as opposed to the years that it can take to get a new emergency shelter built and approved. For example, Union Mission broke ground on their new $20 million shelter in October 2018 and has still not completed the project.

 

In addition to the reduction in cost and time to build THDs, tiny homes are also more environmentally and ecologically friendly than other types of housing. A study conducted by Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality found that reducing a house’s size is the single most important factor in reducing its environmental impact. Our smallest tiny homes are 86% smaller (350 square feet vs. 2600 square feet) than the average single-family home in the U.S.

 

Finally, the day-to-day cost of building a Tiny Home settlement, rehousing individuals experiencing homelessness, and maintaining the homes and communities is much cheaper than other options pursued by the Memphis government. A recent study conducted by Dr. Doug Perkins, Director of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, found that the annual cost to provide permanent public housing in Nashville is between $5,907-7,618 per person, meaning it could save the city a net per-person savings of between $1,630-3,007 if it invested in building that housing. At A Lee Dog Story, we know that placing people experiencing homelessness in Tiny Home Developments can save the city even more money because they are less costly to build and maintain than traditional public housing. Even after adding wrap around services, it is clear that Tiny Home Developments are the most cost effective way to rehouse individuals who are experiencing homelessness.

Housing First is an approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. This approach is guided by the belief that people need basic necessities like food and a place to live before attending to anything less critical, such as getting a job, budgeting properly, or attending to substance use issues. There is a large and growing evidence base demonstrating that Housing First is an effective solution to homelessness. Consumers in a Housing First model access housing faster and are more likely to remain stably housed. Studies have shown that rapid re-housing helps people exit homelessness quickly—in one study, an average of two months—and remain housed. A variety of studies have shown that between 75 percent and 91 percent of households remain housed a year after being rapidly re-housed.

At A Lee Dog Story, we are committed to building Tiny Home Developments, thus establishing permanent affordable housing, in communities who want and need them. Along the way, we will engage these communities and the greater Memphis community in the stories of those who experience homelessness. Our hope is that we can bring art and community, two fundamental elements of Memphis, together to create permanent community-driven change.

Our Tiny Home Developments will be often decorated with colorful art to add to the neighborhood’s aesthetic. We will work to collaborate between Memphis artists, community members, and the tiny home residents to ensure each tiny home is painted in a way that uplifts the spirits of all the important stakeholders. In addition, our Tiny Home Development plans will include small gardens and additional bikeways and walkways to ensure the residents feel safe and at home. Finally, our goal is to provide bikes or electric scooters free of charge to each of the residents so that they can easily access public transportation and job centers. 

Tiny home developments have been established in dozens of communities across the country. The most successful of those developments have included a path towards home ownership for its residents. For example, in 1989 in Washington, the Lopez Community Land Trust was established to build tiny home developments for those experiencing homelessness. Despite lowering unit costs through sweat-equity construction and subsidy contributions, most families were still unable to purchase the house or qualify for a bank loan. A local banker suggested they consider establishing a co-op for the development, which allowed the CLT to obtain blanket financing for the project and did not require families to be qualified individually. Before we discuss what happened in the community, it is important to define Community Land Trusts (CLT) and Limited Equity Cooperatives (LEC).

 

Community Land Trust (CLT):*

CLTs realize affordability by dividing ownership of the land and ownership of buildings and improvements, thereby mitigating speculative market forces. Typically, a household owns its individual dwelling unit while the CLT retains title to the underlying land. A long-term ground lease connects the household to the CLT and is used to enforce affordability controls. This division of land and building rights simultaneously enables access to affordable homeownership while allowing the broader community—through a non-profit steward—to retain a stake in the land. However, because individual households generally must rely on conventional bank financing to purchase their house, it can still be inaccessible to lower-income households.

 

Limited Equity Cooperative (LEC):*

LECs realize affordability through shared resources, self-management, and operating at-cost. In a co-op, multiple households join together to collectively own multiple dwelling units by forming a cooperative corporation. Each household purchases a membership share in the co-op, granting them a right to a dwelling unit, a vote in the co-op’s governance, and an ownership stake. Co-ops also operate at cost. Members pay monthly carrying charges to the co-op to cover all operating costs, including maintenance, reserve funds, and any debt service. A limited-equity co-op preserves long-term affordability by limiting the appreciation in value of the membership share with a simple formula.

*Thank you to Square One Villages for their work on the Village Model and these definitions.

Since the establishment of the LEC, the Lopez Community Land Trust and the co-op have worked together to build over 50 affordable housing units and transfer equity in the co-op to community members.

In part due to the success of these economic models in other communities, the City of Memphis 3.0 Plan embraces the idea of using land banking and land trust policies to help further investment into local neighborhoods. 

7.3.11 Strategically use land banking policies to support local and community-based ownership of land and housing stock by aligning blight prevention efforts, tax and code enforcement, and existing and planned neighborhood investments.

Using a Land Trust to purchase the property can help ensure it is zoned long-term for affordable housing and that the property is always used in the best interests of its community members. Using a cooperative to manage the homes can help its members eventually purchase equity into those homes, even when they do not have the finances to get a bank loan.

A Lee Dog Story’s Tiny Home Development Models

At A Lee Dog Story, we want to ensure that every community has a Tiny Home Development that fits the wants and needs of the surrounding neighborhood. With that in mind, we have come up with two THD models that communities can choose from.

Single-Room Occupancy THDs will be built for communities who want to rehouse individuals experiencing homelessness, chronically homeless individuals, women who have experienced domestic violence or abuse, and other similar groups. 

Elements of Single-Room Occupancy THDs (approx. 200 – 350 sq ft)

  1. Each tiny home will have a bedroom, a living space, a place for residents to safely store their belongings, a kitchenette, and small sink and toilet.
  2. There will be a Community Center where residents will have access to a communal space, conference rooms, a community kitchen and laundry units.
  3. There will be another building where residents will have access to shower facilities. 

 

Family-style THDs will be built for communities who want to rehouse families. 

Elements of Family-style THDs (approx. 600 sq ft)

  1. Each tiny home will have two bedrooms, a living space, a place for residents to safely store their belongings, a bathroom with a shower, sink, and toilet, and a small kitchen, complete with a sink, fridge and oven. Max occupancy of 4.
  2. There will be a Community Center where residents will have access to conference rooms, a communal space, and laundry units.

In addition, A Lee Dog Story will also offer each community the opportunity to add additional buildings, security measures, etc. Those opportunities include…

  1. Safety fence.
  2. Safety hut and 24/7 contracted security.
  3. Donations hut.
  4. Small playground or park.

206 sq. ft.

DIY building cost $2,100 (Not including furniture / appliances)

19,1 m2 small 1 bedroom cabin with 53 sq. ft. / 5,0 m2 porch and 75 sq. ft. / 7 m2 loft. It is 13’–1’’x 11’-6’’ / 4 x 3,5 m one-room timber structure elevated on pillars with front porch of 6’-1’’x 11’-6’’ / 1,8 x 3,5 m and loft of 5’-11’’x 10’-10’’ / 1,8 x 3,3 m size.

Enter through little steps on the side leading directly to the front porch. The loft is spacious enough for a double-bed, creating a very cozy and warm space to sleep with a beautiful view. 

Because this house includes a loft, there is bigger area free on the ground floor to be used as a socialising space. You can put a sofa with coffee table or even a little kitchenette and enjoy a very nice and comfortable place to hang out with your friends or family.

The walls, floor and roof are built of wooden planks and it stands on timber pillar foundation creating a space underneath, which can be used as a storage place, right next to the front porch.