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:

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."