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Tiny home projects proposed for Nevada County

For more info

This Is Now Your Home: http://www.thisisnowyourhome.org

Prospector Village: http://www.helpncca.com

Affordable housing — an increasingly urgent topic in Nevada County — remains in short supply, even as projects such as Cashin’s Field and Brunswick Commons slowly gain traction. Some locals are working to fill in the gap, however, with tiny home projects that would be available as rentals or purchases.

Dick Law, Jim Moule and Mark Root are in the middle of building a prototype tiny house on a trailer for their recently formed nonprofit, This Is Now Your Home (TINY Home). Their model is intended to serve the unhoused or home-insecure who have some resources but just need some extra help.

“Our niche is not the chronically homeless, but those who have lost housing and need some permanency, or who are about to lose housing,” Moule said.

Law, whose property management company frequently works with social service organizations to house clients, said the idea was sparked by an attempt to convert a garage to an accessory dwelling unit. He dropped the plan when the permit costs crept up to $30,000, he said.

“That got us thinking,” Law said. “These tiny homes are on trailer frames, they’re mobile, so they are not real estate — zoning laws don’t apply.”

Law, Moule and Root are currently pursuing a site and have three properties under consideration.

“The ideal seller would be someone who likes the cause and would be willing to work with us,” Moule said. “The property will need septic or sewer, and power. We’re looking for someone with a big heart — we need some caring citizens (to step up).”

So far, the three men have poured their own money into the project, purchasing several trailers that are being stored in Colfax as they build them out.

“We’re pushing ahead with it,” Moule said, adding they are open to putting the first home on someone else’s land initially.

In an ideal world, there would be four units placed back to back with a septic system and community garden in each pod, said Moule, adding, “We could get quite a few units in per parcel and not have it feel like a trailer park.”

The houses, which are 160 square feet, would be rented for $600 a month or less, Law said.

“Tenants need to have that buy-in — they need to want to progress through life,” he said. “We’re not enabling, we’re helping people get on their feet.”

The tenants would be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of the property, which will be a sober environment, and services such as life skills classes will be made available.

“We will have a site before too long that will be ready to go,” Moule said. “We’re working on the theory that if the need is great enough, we’ll figure out how to make it work.”

In order to keep the project sustainable, Law said, the nonprofit needs initial donations — of cash, time or labor. He says they can build each unit for approximately $30,000 using primarily volunteer labor.

“We are committed to building these, but we are going to need community and government support,” he said. “We have kept it low key, but now we’re coming forward.”

Moule, who said he has watched the news for years and felt frustrated with the lack of progress on affordable housing projects, added, “We may fall flat on our face — but we want to do something.”

Prospector Village

Ken Merdinger has a vision of affordable “cottages” that would be for sale at a price point comparable to, or slightly lower than, rent with a reasonable down payment.

“I thought it would be nice to offer people something that’s not an apartment,” he said. “It’s an actual house for someone who never dreamed they could afford a house.”

Merdinger has been exploring the possibility for the last two years, and working to locate a property in Grass Valley where his startup company can build an affordable “micro-village.” Prospector Village, he said, will contain a mix of studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom cottages, which are detached stick-built homes on permanent foundations. Even the studios can house several people, he said, with a Murphy bed and a loft with room for a full-size bed.

The costs would range from $149,000 for a studio cottage to $299,000 for a three-bedroom, so a prospective homeowner could buy in with $5,000 down and a mortgage of about $1,100 a month, Merdinger said, adding, “It’s comparable to rent but you own this. …”

“Right now, we’re in the process of negotiation with property owners,” Merdinger said of two site possibilities. “Nothing is locked up yet. They’re both great sites, and are walkable to shopping.”

He plans to build out approximately 20 neighborhood clusters on a proposed 30-acre site, each with a common green area in the middle with picnic tables and barbecues. The expected home sizes will be from 261 square feet to 847 square feet. Amenities being proposed include a community center, a communal garden, an amphitheater, a dog park and a children’s playground.

“I’ve done everything you’re supposed to: write a business plan, assemble a professional team, network in the community, and seek support from city and county officials,” he said. “I want to make it look like something that would fit in Grass Valley or Nevada City, as far as the architecture.”

Merdinger’s project is not a nonprofit, although he is planning to work with nonprofit agencies in order to get some funding assistance through grants.

He acknowledged that most developers shy away from the tiny home cluster model as not having enough of a profit margin, saying, “There is not a lot of profit. I’m not looking to make anything, really. If I break even, that would be fantastic.”

The plan, Merdinger said, is to instill pride of ownership so that residents help maintain the community. Prospector Village will have a homeowner’s association and will be income-restricted.

“These will be deeded properties with deed restrictions,” he said. “This will allow tax breaks as long as it stays affordable.”

Merdinger is hoping the income restrictions will allow him to work out some permit fee reductions with the city.

He already has seen a substantial list of people registering for the cottages, he said.

“The biggest demand is for one- and two-bedrooms,” Merdinger said “I thought there would be more demand for studios.”

Merdinger said he hopes to nail down a site in the next few weeks, and estimates it will take a year for site planning and another year for infrastructure. In the best case scenario, he said, construction would start in two years.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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