These unique tiny homes are designed to help pull low-income families out of poverty.

Owning a home is part of the American dream, but for people who are in poverty or were recently homeless, it's often just that: a dream.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

The Tiny Homes project in Detroit hopes to change that.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.


The project was born out of a nonprofit called Cass Community Social Services (CCSS), run by Rev. Faith Fowler, who began thinking about how property is passed down within families after her mother passed away a few years ago.

The goal of the project is to give people with low incomes or who were recently homeless the opportunity to own homes of their own.

"We were looking for a way to help homeless and other low-income people gain an asset," Fowler explained over email.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

These tiny homes are unique for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most significant is that while similar tiny-home homeless relief projects have popped up in other locations, Cass Community Tiny Homes is the first to offer properties that are rent-to-own.

This is an important distinction because of the advantages that come from owning property, like building equity and tax deductions. Perhaps the most significant benefit, however, is what owning property can do for a family in the long term. Studies show the main reason children from wealthier families end up doing better financially as adults than children from poorer families comes down to their parents owning more valuable properties in nicer neighborhoods with better schools — homes that they pass down to their kids.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

Here's how the rent-to-own plan works: The tiny-home community reaches out through shelters and neighborhood canvassing to find people who are ready to move into a home but can't afford one. There is a review process for prospective tenants that culminates with an interview. Once accepted, tenants start a year lease, paying rent no more than a third of their monthly salary.

The rental price of each unit is $1 per square foot, meaning a 250-square-foot house costs $250 a month to rent. Because the tiny homes are built for energy efficiency, utilities are estimated to be quite low, approximately $35 a month.

A blueprint for one of the tiny homes. Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

After seven years of paying rent, the tiny house becomes the tenant's property. There's just one catch: mandatory attendance at monthly financial coaching and home-ownership classes.

Currently, the Detroit Tiny Homes community has enough property to build 25 single-family homes ranging from 250 to 400 square feet.

The tiny homes share borders with the CCSS campus, so unlike many low-income housing projects, residents live side-by-side, mixed in with the local community rather than separated from it. In fact, some of the tiny houses may eventually be occupied by students and CCSS staff members.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

The development is funded entirely by private donations and foundations, including the Ford Motor Fund, the RNR Foundation, and the McGregor Fund.

The best part? There will be 25 different styles of houses — a different design on each lot.

Unlike many shelters, these residences aren't drab or uniform in any way. Each one has a gorgeous facade with lots of details and a unique architectural style.

Image by CCSS/Vimeo.

"We want to instill a sense of pride in the residents," wrote Fowler. "Most people will be coming from situations where everyone had the same bland setting (shelters in particular). We also believe by having so many styles in a concentrated area that others will be drawn to the neighborhood."

So far, over 600 people have applied for the units, and construction of the first six units is underway.

Here's the first tiny house, which was completed on Sept. 6, 2016:

Jim Vella and the Ford Motor Company volunteers helped make today's press conference a booming success.

Posted by Cass Community Social Services on Thursday, September 8, 2016

Because tiny homes can be constructed so quickly and cheaply, CCSS plans to expand the project to accommodate larger families.

According to Fowler, there are many more vacant lots near the original building sites, allowing the project to grow exponentially.

Image via CCSS/Vimeo.

If successful, these tiny housing developments could change everything for low-income families in Detroit. They'll provide an opportunity that wasn't there before: to own property that they can pass down to future generations, giving them a sturdy foundation on which they can rely.

Learn more about CCSS' Tiny Homes project here:

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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