People’s Liberty, for the second year in a row, is taking applications this month for two Haile Fellows. They are awarded $100,000 each to improve the city. One of last year’s grantees is using the money to build two tiny houses in Over-the-Rhine. They are fewer than 300 square feet — about the size of some master bedrooms — and are meant to increase affordable living, but are quite a change from the norm.
The two tiny houses to be built on Over-the-Rhine’s Peete Street are part of Haile Fellow Brad Cooper’s project, Start Small. They will each be two stories and about 300 square feet, slightly larger than originally planned. Cooper is releasing a new rendering of the floor plan this week.
“So the idea was that I’d be building and designing two tiny homes able for someone earning below $40,000 to afford,” says Cooper.
But only one of those homes will be available for low-income residents. Cooper’s second tiny home will cost more — about $200,000. Initially, the proposal was to build just the more expensive home as a prototype and then refine it to make future tiny homes less expensive. But as he got started with the grant, he decided to do both in the first year.
“It’s so expensive just because of what you’re getting out of that. There’s a lot of land cost (and) sight improvements that go into that. You do get solar panels (and) a parking space,” Cooper explains.
Despite all of that, there is still concern about the high price per square foot with the more expensive home. John Boggess with Comey & Shepherd Realtors says in Cincinnati, there are a lot of shotgun houses in the 700 square foot range. He says people can buy those for $50-to-$60,000.
“Now, granted, this house is going to be almost off the grid in that it’s got solar panels and a great tax abatement, so it’s going to cut your expense quite a bit too,” Boggess says.
According to him, the tiny houses are a good concept for young professionals who don’t have a lot of possessions.
“As far as whether empty nesters may want this or not, that’s a huge amount of downsizing for an empty nester to do. My guess would be probably first-time buyers,” says Boggess.
The OTR houses are good for those first-time buyers who want city life. But tiny houses aren’t limited to urban areas. Trevor Gay, 31, built a tiny home in rural Spring Valley near Dayton and was featured on the HGTV show “Tiny House, Big Living” last spring. He now lives in the 224 square foot home with his fiancée and four cats. Gay previously lived in a 1200 square foot bungalow.
“You don’t realize that your entire decorated house and your extra bedrooms and your bonus rooms and all of the stuff that goes in there, that weighs on your conscience and if it comes time to move, everyone hates moving,” says Gay.
Gay says a tiny home, especially one like his on wheels, makes moving and traveling easy. Another reason he loves tiny living is the financial benefit. Gay pays about $30-$40 a month for expenses, and exchanges rent for farm work. Despite his love for tiny living and the support he’s seen in the tiny house community, Gay says it’s not for everyone. This includes James Tyler, who was walking down Vine Street with friends.
“I live in an old house in Hyde Park where I have a fully fenced-in yard and three bedrooms and two baths, for our guests to come, and I’ve got dogs,” Tyler says. “So the idea of living in a tiny house is crazy.”
But the size isn’t so crazy for those like Gay and sculptor Justin Poole, who at one time considered buying the tiny house Brad Cooper is building. Poole lives and works in an old, large church and says the idea of having something small and manageable to live in appeals to him.
“I’ve spent a lot of my life living in hotels traveling on jobs. I’ve realized that living in a very small space with very few possessions is actually preferable than having all your stuff,” Poole says.
Poole recognizes the cost per square foot is high, but he says there are upsides, like high-end amenities, having a yard and the tax abatement. In the end, he decided the tiny house in OTR is too far away from his workspace in Walnut Hills. He ideally would like to have a tiny house built on the church’s property. So Cooper is still looking for prospective buyers for both of his tiny homes. Construction is slated to begin in March.