Tiny Houses Can Bring Big Changes for Youths, Low-Income Homeowners

From left: Dana Stein, Jelene Feyijinmi and Rodney Lee Payne of Civic Works stand outside the tiny house. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

Quentin Harper, an AmeriCorps volunteer for Civic Works, stepped inside a handsome wooden structure tucked in a back corner of the Maryland Home & Garden Show last week at the Maryland State Fairgrounds.

“This is our tiny home. Two hundred and 20 square feet,” Harper said with pride. “Pretty much all of the materials used to build this are recycled [or sustainable]. The floors are made of cork. The walls are made of [pine]. The cabinets are bamboo.”

Behind him, helping with the tour of the new Civic Works project, was the organization’s founder and executive director, Dana Stein of Pikesville, who, when he isn’t in Annapolis making laws from January to April each year as an 11th District state delegate, is hunkered down at the historic Clifton Mansion in Baltimore, helping people make Baltimore a better, more supportive place through job training and volunteerism.

Founded by Stein in 1993, the nonprofit Civic Works renovates, rehabs and weatherizes homes, builds parks and gardens, tutors and mentor students, improves senior citizens’ homes and grows produce on its urban farm through youth-service corps volunteers as an AmeriCorps program.

Add to that building tiny homes to offer energy-efficient, affordable housing to the public, while training Baltimore City youths in construction skills as they earn GEDs.

“It’s one of our programs called YouthBuild, which focuses on construction,” Stein said. “That’s the program within Civic Works that built this one and is building the next one.”

Jelene Feyijinmi, Civic Works coordinator for Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS), knows personally how Civic Works programs like building tiny houses can change lives.

“We get them to focus and train them to do the right thing in the world, whichever way they go. We support them 100 percent, whether it’s construction or going to do an office job,” she said. “I started with AmeriCorps. Being from Brooklyn, New York and living in what society would call the ‘hood,’ it transformed me into being a better person not only for myself, but my children as well. The program definitely helps you to make a better you.”

Quentin Harper and Jelene Feyijinmi enjoy the tiny-house kitchen. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

Feyijinmi rattled off a list of the energy-efficient and sustainable building components in the tiny home, including a kitchen countertop that looked like granite made from recycled paper; two types of insulation; double-pane windows; a propane heater; a swamp cooler; a solar tube for lighting; a pedal generator to manually generate electricity; a cool roof; a dual-flush toilet; a low-flow shower; and battery packs to run off the grid, if necessary.

“But the most important part of this house, to me, is our youth builders,” she said. “Our youth builders actually created this, so not only were they seeking their GED, they also accomplished making our house.”

The tiny home on display at the home show was Civic Works’ first and took about six months to build. Civic Works board member and architect David Hong and Greg Cantori, a tiny home consultant, designed it. About five years ago, Cantori bought a tiny house and took Civic Works staffers to see it.

“He said this would be a great training opportunity and prototype for affordable housing,” Stein said. “One of his earlier roles was as head of an affordable housing developer, and he said that it cost $180,000 per unit to build affordable housing, whereas this will be substantially less. Utilities would probably be no more than $50 per month.”

“A 30-year mortgage for this would be about $300 a month,” he added. “It makes it affordable.”

Looking down from the loft on Quentin Harper using the pedal generator, while Jelene Feyijinmi chats with a visitor. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

Civic Works received a grant under the YouthBuild program and built its first prototype at a warehouse at the Baltimore Center for Green Careers in 2015. After that, the city bought the tiny home, with the stipulation that Civic Works take it to fairs and festivals to highlight its energy-efficient building materials and techniques.

Civic Works is now using 84 Lumber kits to build their tiny homes. Rodney Lee Payne is construction supervisor.

“They have four different models, you can go on the 84 Lumber tiny house website, and you can buy one of those, and we can build it for you,” Stein said. “We rented space in Remington where Rodney is building the second one, and we hope to build more.”

84 Lumber kits range from $45,000 to $75,000, including the build. The Civic Works first tiny house cost about $67,000, but Stein said that could be lowered using less high-end materials.

Tiny homes have become quite the trend in recent years, touted for their portability (they can be constructed on trailers and easily moved) and their efficiency of size (less than 800 square feet), which requires less building materials and less energy usage.

While they have been built as affordable primary and vacation homes and quick-build housing following disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, cities such as Detroit are building tiny houses to offer low-income and homeless people a chance to be homeowners.

Currently, neither Baltimore City nor Baltimore County has specific zoning to accommodate tiny homes, but Stein said legislation is in the works.

“The good news is, the building code issues are being addressed,” he said. “There’s an international building code that was recently approved for building tiny houses. So, they will get adopted by the state and then the city. There are City Council members and the mayor who support the idea of doing a couple tiny-house pilots, where you have tiny-house villages.”

According to Stein, a number of private landowners, affordable-housing groups and nonprofits want to build tiny homes in Baltimore.

Outside the tiny home, Civic Works staffers chat with home show visitors. (Susan C. Ingram photo)

“There are two groups that would like to build them as affordable housing for their clients who are homeless, as rental units,” Stein said. “There’s also a group that’s interested for foster youth as they age out of the foster care system and they need an affordable place to live. So, there’s a lot of interest.”

Civic Works’ tiny home will be at the Mid-Atlantic Tiny House Expo on Saturday and Sunday at the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship, Md.

For more information, civicworks.com.


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