Can tiny houses save Detroit?


If you’ve never had the opportunity to own a home, this is a once in a lifetime dream come true opportunity. Detroit is building the country’s first tiny home community to help low income residents become homeowners. It was started by Reverend Faith Fowler, who turned a personal loss into a gift for her community. – When my mom died, if I inherited some things, and it was really the
first time in my life I understood that if you’re poor when your parents die, they can’t leave you anything. So I started looking
for a way that we could provide the safety net
for really poor people, who had an income but not enough to ever climb the economic ladder
that most of us do. And tiny homes just fit the bill. Many people are fixated on the fact that they’re so darn cute. But for me it’s that economic mobility that we’re able to offer folks, and give them a chance to
have the American dream. – [Voiceover] Detroit
has one of the highest poverty rates in the country. About 36%. Here, homelessness is a major problem. – In the city of Detroit, there’s anywhere from 15,000 to 20,000 homeless men, women, and children. Detroit’s 139,000 square miles. It’s a huge city. We had 80,000 abandoned buildings. Because of the auto industry, people could get living wage
jobs with decent benefits, and have enough to buy a nice house. But many of those jobs are now gone. So this is Detroit too. – [Voiceover] This is the Boston Edison Historic District. Many of its mansions were
once home to auto magnates during the city’s hey
day in the early 1900’s. – You can see a very great contrast to the neighborhood we just drove through. And so we have this gap, tremendous gap. I call Detroit the land of opportunity. We have plenty of land
and if we look at it as an opportunity, then tremendous things can be done in terms of housing. – [Voiceover] Faith runs the non-profit, Cass Community Social Services. The agency is the force
behind building this tiny community. When completed, it will be 25 tiny homes, each uniquely designed. – Seven houses are finished and occupied. Five houses are under construction. The first seven have just been wonderful. I feel like we hit the lottery. – [Voiceover] Many of the
materials are donated. And the construction involves
an army of volunteers. – [Faith] Some are schools, some are churches, some are corporate people, and some are carpenters and electricians. It’s been very humbling. – [Voiceover] Each home is
between 250 and 400 square feet, and costs $1 per square foot. So a housing payment
comes out to be $250 to $400 a month. How is this financially possible? – We needed to eliminate the mortgage, because our people
can’t afford a mortgage. So we raised the money
for the homes up front. When they pay rent,
they’re actually not paying for rent to own. They’re just paying rent
so that we establish a financial history for them. We use that money to pay their taxes, their water, their insurance, and their security system. So if they pay that for seven years, then we give them the house, the land, the deed, and the bills. – [Voiceover] The mission
here is more than just building shelter. It’s about helping people
rebuild their lives. Keith McElveen was one
of the first residents in the community. Born and raised in Detroit, he’s making the most of his second chance. – It was kinda hard growing up here. I grew up in the state system. It wasn’t peaches and cream. – [Voiceover] After losing his job as an assistant manager at a blood bank, Keith couldn’t find work. – I wound up selling drugs. And wound up going to prison. Seven years. It was kinda rough. But I endure. – When he came out, his mother, father, sister and brother were all dead. So to go home, where do you go? – Once I had got out, I was just trying to survive. And I didn’t want to be homeless. I came to Cass looking for a job. – [Voiceover] Keith now
works security at Cass. But even when he’s off the clock, he’s looking after the other residents in the community. – I’m part of this community. I’m invested in a mission. – [Voiceover] The tiny homes community is directly tied to Cass’ social services, which provide programs for food, healthcare, and employment. The objective is to help
people improve their lives. And to help build a support network, residents of the tiny community commit to eight hours of volunteer
service every month. Like Gladys, who works
at the organization’s food pantry. – I love taking care of people. To me it’s a community enrichment because they help us, we help them. – [Voiceover] Participating
in Cass’ services helps build skills and community. – They then become the
role models for people just coming in off the streets. What a wonderful thing. – [Voiceover] Since its launch, the program has gained
wide-spread interest. Over 1,000 people have
inquired about applying for tiny homes. And other places are seeing if the program can be replicated. – [Faith] We’re consulting
with other organizations who are trying to do something
similar in their area. It is not the only solution. Not everybody wants to
live in a tiny home, but it is certainly a great
option for people who are, to help them up the ladder
of economic opportunity.

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