The Dallas Examiner

Saving money, improving the environment and the emotional wounds of combat; these were just some of the motivators among the individuals who decided that joining the growing tiny house movement was the right choice for them.

Additionally, since the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance announced in March that the number of unsheltered homeless increased 47 percent and African Americans make up 58 percent of the homeless population, tiny houses may be a new tool in reducing the number of people living on the streets.

The tiny house lifestyle, a subculture exhibited during the Earth Day Texas exposition at Fair Park, consisted of two “villages” and builders for visitors to explore. The villages provided a place where proponents of the small, mobile and often self-built living spaces constructed from recycled materials opened their homes to the public, answered questions and explained the financial, ecological and emotional appeals of living in accommodations that can be as little as 78 square feet for a single resident.

One group at the event, The Veterans Community Project, is a nonprofit that builds tiny houses as transitional housing for homeless veterans.

“We teamed together because we were all working with veterans, homeless veterans, in various capacities,” noted Bryan Mayer, one of the founders of the project. “We saw a lot of guys and gals falling through the cracks, meaning, they weren’t qualifying for traditional V.A. services or housing programs, or they didn’t want to enter into the existing programs.”

Mayer said it took his organization to narrow down some of the challenges specific to housing veterans where the federal government was falling short.

“A lot of guys don’t like the idea of moving into a traditional shelter because it’s extreme socialization when they come from isolation. They don’t get to keep their things; a lot of guys have pets – they can’t keep those. Additionally, there’s not a lot of continuum of care,” he explained.

The VCP was formed solely with the idea of creating houses through donations rather than government grants so that they could provide unrestricted assistance for those who needed it.

That project is unique in that it involves a fully “online” tiny house community in Kansas City, with further inquiries on the program coming from other cities, organizations or individuals. “What we’re doing is brining on-site services to them, meaning there’s a structure outside the houses – case managers, social workers, and we’ll provide any number of services to the veterans in the village,” the spokesman said.

The VCP has similar elements that service organization CitySquare has provided via The Cedars at Hickory Crossing downtown. The Cedars is an enclave of 12 tiny houses where formerly homeless men receive mental health and other counseling as they regain the skills independent living requires, but within a place that is their own, among a peer group dealing with the same issues they face, much like the VCP community.

“We are just trying to be protective of our ‘neighbors’ privacy as they adjust to life off of the streets,” Lou Ann York of York Communications stated in an email about the small housing development, one of 17 poverty fighting programs established by CitySquare.

Still, many at the Earth Day expo admitted that they took up the cause of tiny house living simply because it appealed to them and they were seeking change. Vera Struck is one of those pioneers.

“I’m 68 years old, and when I was 62 I had just finished my third bout of cancer and gone through $1.5 million, and all my assets as a single mommy that I had accumulated,” the homeowner said.

“When you have an event … that is very difficult in your life, all of a sudden you do some soul-searching and decide to make changes. And so I realized the American dream of saving all your life can be shot within a very short period of time.”

Struck and her 144 square foot home made the journey to Texas from her home state of Massachusetts. The house runs on solar energy and is built to harvest its own water supply – “all renewable energy, non-toxic, zero waste,” she explained. Notably, she was not the only tiny house dweller with an eye on the monetary bottom line.

“Pretty much for us it was a financial decision,” said Kim Merrett as she and her husband, Jay, described the purpose of building their structure east of Dallas.

“Like many in our generation, we wasted a lot of opportunities. We worked for a lot of years, spent a lot of money on housing, spent a lot of money on utilities, taxes, and didn’t save the money we should have,” Jay reflected, he and his wife both in their mid-50s.

“As we got older and started looking at ‘Well, we have retirement coming up, and we’re either going to work until we’re 75, 80 years old and still have nothing, or we’re going to make some drastic changes.’”

When the duo realized the cost of home ownership was their biggest expense, they knew a tiny house would offer them the most independence at the smallest cost. Jay broke down the cost of owning a tiny house and a storage unit on their own lot of land.

“We’re paying $3.50 a foot now on taxable value on a storage building on our property instead of calling it living space,” he claimed. The storage unit is 12 feet outside their door, filled with all of their property, but it cost very little to build. The insurance fees are negligible, and the taxes on it are $20 a year.

“But leave that living space for what you actually live in,” Jay emphasized. “Find a place to eat, dress, and cook and use the restroom, and don’t pay taxes on the rest of it. It makes a huge difference. We’re going for 12 acres of land, plus the house and storage that we’ll end up with about $150 a year in taxes on.”

“I was pretty impressed with them,” visitor Ted Thomas acknowledged after touring one of the villages. “Sometimes we see them advertised on DIY,” he added as he referred to the home improvement channel that occasionally features tiny houses.

“The way it’s so compartmentalized, you’ve got room to move around. And you have to feel like you wouldn’t think you’d have that much room around for the seating areas, the cooking areas and the restrooms – and it’s mobile,” Thomas continued on the home-like interior.

“I you want to buy… an RV, this would probably be even better.”

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