Printed: June 22, 2021

Bluff Street offers pathway toward home ownership 

Tiny houses for low-income

BLADE STAFF

The tiny home initiative designed to revitalize a central Toledo neighborhood and offer a pathway to homeownership for low-income residents is nearing completion on its first two properties.

Bluff Street Village, a development project that is a key part of the city’s Monroe Street improvement plan, aims to create low-cost, eco-friendly houses up to 400 square feet each. The homes along Bluff Street between Rosedale Avenue and Ottawa Drive sit on formerly vacant lots and are designed for people who make less than $18,000 per year.

Similar projects have been undertaken in cities including Detroit and Savannah, Ga., but this is believed to be the first of its kind in Toledo — where organizers hope the initiative can offer a sensible alternative to renting.

Walls have gone up on the first two houses, which are on track to be completed in July and shown at open houses in August.

“We’re at the point where we’re going to put in drywall soon and the siding is going to go on in a couple weeks,” said Larry Clark, the project director for Bluff Street Village. “We hope to have an open house at the end of the summer to let the community see them, and hopefully get more support for the project as we go down the road.”

The tiny homes project is part of larger plan that includes street upgrades and refurbishing vacant property for alternative uses such as small parks and urban agriculture.

The Toledo Design Collective, which aided with the neighborhood study in the lead-up to the project, found that nearly one-third of the land in the Monroe/​Auburn neighborhood sits vacant, owned by either the city of Toledo or Lucas County.

Residents of Bluff Street Village will take ownership of the homes at the end of seven years and meet requirements along the way, such as attending monthly workshops on topics such as home repair and budgeting, completing 10 hours of community service per month, and meeting with a caseworker.

In homes with a fixed rate of $1 per square foot, the rent would be no more than $400 — allowing someone a chance to do what low-income Americans rarely can: build equity.

Mr. Clark, who is also the pastor of Monroe Street United Methodist Church, said most citizens understand that low-income households rarely have the chance to save when rent eats huge shares of their take-home income.

“Rather than creating low-income housing that’s going to be constantly rental property, this is a program that enables them to be homeowners and then walks with them along the way in the process to becoming a homeowner,” Mr. Clark said. “The idea that a low-income person could actually own something and build some equity, most people get that. That seems to be something that people have responded to.”

The homes are designed for individuals or families of two. Once residents own the property, they will have the option to stay or sell the property, though sale is subject to some deed restrictions.

With additional support, the Bluff Street Village project believes its tiny homes won’t simply be a novelty, but a real-world solution that confronts inequity in a community that had previously seen very little investment.

Mr. Clark said he hopes the project can take off once people actually see the homes up close.

“I think it’s the key,” he said. “We’ve been able to fund-raise for these first two houses, but to really do the whole project, we’re going to need some major sponsors along the way.

“To be able to show them what they look like and how well they’re built, and help people understand the project in its totality, I think, will make a big difference.”