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Trying a tiny solution to a big problem

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Incredible Tiny Homes
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An example of a furnished Incred-I-Box.

The Council on Aging of West Florida is taking a tiny bite out of the affordable housing crisis in Northwest Florida. With help from a grant from the AARP late last year, the council purchased two tiny homes to give two seniors a new start.

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“Housing is not normally under our purview,” said Emily Echevarria, marketing and communications director for the Council on Aging of West Florida. “When we saw the AARP Livable Communities Grant, we decided we wanted to tackle something with housing because we know that it is such an issue in our community.”

The council is a nonprofit that provides home and community based services seniors in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. With the grant, they were awarded $50,000 to purchase the two homes from Incredible Tiny Homes, a Tennessee company that had been making the traditional tiny houses with multi-stores, 300 to 400 square feet of living space and price tags up to $100,000.

To be sure, these two houses are not the kind you see on HGTV, with multi-stories and granite countertops. These are single story units called the Incred-I-Box model.

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WUWF Public Media
A sample of the Incred-I-Box style tiny home.

“This is the tiniest that it gets,” said Echevarria. “It’s pretty bare-bones. But it’s certainly a livable space. It’s cute. You can add whatever your personal flair is to it within the 128 square feet. It is great for someone who is either extremely minimalist and is a step up for someone who is living in a vehicle or a camp.”

Incredible Tiny Homes is a company that had been building larger and more elaborate tiny homes.

“About two years ago (Randy Jones), the creator and the owner of the company got hit with the reality of the housing affordability crisis, and he said ‘Golly, I know I can make a small home that can pass building codes,’” said Rick Dye, a consultant for the Affordable Housing Advisory Group, an organization that partners with other groups and individuals to create affordable rental housing in the Pensacola area. “And he went out and found supplies and products and enough materials to begin to manufacture on an assembly line this Incred-I-Box, and is able to retail it for $20,000 utilizing stuff that would normally have gone to the landfill.”

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Jennie McKeon
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WUWF Public Media
Rick Dye inside the Incred-I-Box model.

While the size and construction materials and methods used to make the homes keep the price low, it limits where the houses can be placed. They are currently classified as RVs, even though they are not mobile or even on wheels. This means they can only be set up in RV parks and mobile home communities.

“These really ought to be called simple homes,” said Dye. “Because when you say tiny homes everyone goes off on their own tangent of what they know. But if you introduce a new name like a simple home, then people can give you a chance to explain that this is for people who are living in their cars, who have been living out in the woods, who have income, but there’s not enough (affordable) vacancies in the community to supply the need. And that’s our case here in Pensacola.”

The two homes have been placed in an RV park in Pensacola and one senior is already getting settled into their new home. The Council of Ageing is set to relocate someone into the second home before the end of January.

“For us this is an advocacy project,” said Echevarria. “We don’t want to be landlords.”

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.