Local nonprofit unveils new, permanently affordable small homes

These two new "small" homes on 15th Street near Prairie Avenue will be "permanently affordable," according to the low-income housing nonprofit Tenants To Homeowners.

Tenants to Homeowners on Friday unveiled two small homes, which the Lawrence nonprofit says will remain permanently affordable.

The homes, on 15th Street near Prairie Avenue, are both two-bedroom, two-level homes that are about 885 square feet, according to the general contractor. Tenants to Homeowners said these are the smallest homes the nonprofit has built so far.

“They are better than I imagined as far as livability, space, just the feel of them,” Tenants to Homeowners Executive Director Rebecca Buford said. “I don’t feel like we are shoehorning anyone into a tiny space.”

Open house visitors stand in the main room of the completed “small” home on the corner of 15th Street and Prairie Avenue on Feb. 14.

On Friday, just one of the homes was fully completed. The second is expected to be done next week.

The homes are valued at $165,000, Buford said, but they will be sold for $105,000. The $60,000 difference is subsidized by the nonprofit through federal funding. When the new owners eventually decide to sell the homes, they will be required to sell for $105,000, plus 25% of the market appreciation, which will allow for some profit.

Tenants to Homeowners and the buyers of the homes will be partners in ownership. The buyer will own the building; Tenants to Homeowners will retain ownership of the land the home sits on, but will give the homeowner the right to use the land through a 99-year ground lease.

In order to qualify to purchase the homes, buyers must make less than 80% of the area median income. For a single person, they must make less than $45,850; a family of three must make less than $58,950; and a family of five must make less than $70,750.

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Having every inch of space be usable is important for affordable housing designs, Buford said. The homes feature small, tucked-away storage spaces and kitchen bars that can double as eating spaces.

Tenants to Homeowners Executive Director Rebecca Buford opens a small storage space in the main room of one of the nonprofit organization’s new “small” homes on the corner of 15th Street and Prairie Avenue.

Both homes also feature car ports instead of garages, which Buford said offers homeowners the flexibility of storing a car under an overhang during inclement weather or using the space as an outdoor patio area.

Both of the new “small” homes on 15th Street near Prairie Avenue have car ports that can function as garages or covered space to sit or relax outdoors.

Each home is on a separate plot of land, but Buford intends to have another small home built on one of those plots, making it the first time her nonprofit would use the city’s recently enacted density bonus, which allows lots to be divided for affordable housing projects.

The third home will be single-story, making it fully accessible.

“I like the idea of when we build dense — if we build two or three houses on a site — that you would have one accessible and one two-story,” Buford said.

Good housing design plans create intergenerational neighborhoods, Buford said, so with this project, they are hoping to accomplish that goal on just one lot.

“You have one house that is probably just for seniors or someone with a disability … and one that’s for young people that can walk,” she said. “Then you create a community that can help each other.”

Denser housing requires neighbors to interact, Buford said. “And we think building community is as important as building housing.”

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But Bob Rummell, who will be the neighbor to the new homeowners in the “small” houses, has expressed his opposition to the Tenants to Homeowners project and to the density bonus. Signs in his front yard read “Double Density is not the way.”

Bob Rummell, who lives on a lot next to the new “small home” on 15th Street and Prairie Avenue, put up signs that say, “Double Density is not the way” to protest the city’s density bonus.

Rummell has lived in his home for more than 10 years, and he said he has not always had good relationships with residents of Tenants to Homeowners projects. He called his neighborhood, Brook Creek, “poor,” and said he’s been working for a long time to improve his land.

“This was a shack. I’ve painted it. I plant trees, I make it nice,” he said. “And meanwhile they’re double-densitying poor people around me that aren’t going to increase the value of my property.”

Rummell specified that he’s not opposed to low-income housing in general.

“I’m probably lower income than the people that are going to be there,” he said of the future occupants of the homes. But Rummell said he is opposed to the majority of affordable housing projects in Lawrence being located on one side of town.

According to the city’s “Affordable housing by neighborhood” map, the majority of affordable housing projects are east of Iowa Street, and many are located in Brook Creek.

“It’s really hard to fight affordable housing … everyone wants affordable housing,” he said. “But when you look at the beast a little bit more in detail, that’s kind of where this thing looks like a (expletive) project.”