I was sitting on the porch of my tiny house the other night thinking about tiny houses and the movement when the question floated into my mind: “If I somehow became the steward of $1,000,000 to further the tiny house movement, what would I do?” It’s an interesting question and I really like thought experiments like this. So, here is what I’d do:
I think an important first step would be to establish a tiny house proof of concept with a city and create a model that other cities could follow. I would most likely start in my hometown of Charlotte, mainly because I know the codes better and have some good connections with folks that I’d need to leverage in order to make my plan successful.
I’ve had some preliminary conversations with some community development leaders, developers, lawyers and a few political figures at the point, but have yet to take it much further because the later phases of execution would require funds that I simply don’t have. So I’d start a dialogue with some key people and then also contract the services of a few people, primarily lawyers that have experience doing community development. I don’t think things would need to get pushed into the court room, but a few of the lawyers I have in mind know the landscape better than I do, they have the personal connections, they know what meetings you need to show up for, they know who other follow on votes and they know the process. These things are valuable to the execution of the plan. I figure it will take about $50,000 in contractor fees, mainly because most of the people would be lawyers ($200-$300 an hr).
Running Total: $50,000
From there I’d work with these people to start conversations with the city about getting a program started where we would essential do a trial run on a particular piece of land for a tiny house community. I figure about $5,000 in fees, filings, paperwork, etc.
Running Total: $55,000
Concurrently I would be shopping for land, somewhere in the 10-20 acre range of which I have about 5 locations that would be ideally suited for this project. The key here would be land that could be rezone for a cluster housing setup and located within a 30 minute drive of downtown Charlotte. The location would be key. Most people today want the amenities of a city and Charlotte is a decent sized city to meet that need, plus land is relatively cheap and still available. For the land I’d be looking to spend up to $250,000 which would be the home of the community and a common house that would also later be used to run training events, meetings, etc.
Running Total: $305,000
Next once we had the land and the city’s support, I would work the land (grading, access, roads, parking), install infrastructure (water, sewer, solar, internet, gas), then begin construction. For this I’m assuming $75,000 to meet city requirements. I’m also assuming they’ll require us to install storm drains, side walks, and a retention pond because of the number of people, it would be similar to an apartment complex in their eyes.
Running Total: $380,000
Once I had the land secured, I’d put out a call for residents. There would be an application, interview, and selection process. The goal would be selecting people who would be good stewards of the first location, would have the ability to interface with the public and the media very well, and people who could help us put a good foot forward in the community. The group would also have to function well as a team, because I would want a community, not disparate individuals that just want a place to put a tiny house or live cheap. I envision the people selected would go through a lengthy interview process, jump through a lot of hoops and prove that they are the right people for the mission.
With that group I’d want to do some team building, some communications training and community building. There will also be some media interface training, so that they can keep calm when a reporter tries to pull a “gotcha”, when a detractor speaks out, or when something goes wrong and they need to operate under pressure. For that I’d budget about $5,000 for various activities and facilitators.
Running Total: $385,000
From that point I’d design the houses with each of the people using some tiny house designers I know. The plans would be used to build the house and then either given away or sold as a revenue generator for the non-profit mission of this incubator.
Established Revenue: $1,000 / month
Each house would be designed, built and paid for by this project, but each person would enter into a 2 or 3 year lease on that house. I’d guess between $200-$400 for rent and utilities a month.
It might be possible that some of the paid work needed to be done by this project could be paid to these members if they had the required skill sets for the job. This could also aid in keeping the project accessible for low income individuals.
I would want 10 houses to on the property, half to be people bringing their own house, half built onsite built with about half the labor done by the people themselves. I figure total cost per built house would be $40,000 for the five built on site for a total of $200,000.
I would also have a common house built (about 2,500 square feet). I figure about $200,000 for that building. That building would have a large room, community kitchen, a guest bedroom, laundry and toilets.
In this space I’d tried to save a lot of costs here by doing workshops where people come for the week and get hands on with building a tiny house. Tickets would be pricey because of the time, meals, organizing etc. I figure $1500 a person. This would help offset the costs of the houses. For the common house I’d try to do that with straw bale or ob and again, make that an event that we would sell tickets to.
Worst Case Running Total: $785,000
Target Running Total: $600,000
Established Revenue: $3,500-$5,000 / month
This would close the initial phase of the first location. From here the idea would be to document the entire process and produce some high quality materials, media, and website. These could be used by tiny house people and by municipalities. I figure there will be some coding, design and material fees with this $5,000.
Running Total: $605,000
Established Revenue: $3,500-$5,000 / month
The next phase would be taking the revenue generated and building that revenue to become a self sustaining non profit. The hope here is that with the initial $1M we could build an engine that could pump out tiny house havens and develop training for DIYers, Builders and cities to elevate the community.
The remaining funds to kick off the next location and essentially do lobbying on behalf of tiny houses. I would also look into tiny house financing, developer partnerships and tiny house insurance. We would develop tiny house codes that municipalities could plug and play for cities and we would help them in that process.
I’m also playing it safe with the budget because things will inevitably be more expensive, unexpected costs will come up and there will be some staffing costs.
Final Total: $850,000
Revenue: $13,500-$15,000 / month
So that is how I’d move the movement forward with an infusion of $1M.
- How would you use the $1M differently for the movement?