Tiny homes could solve a big problem

August 15, 2018
Tiny home artist rendering

Recent U of M College of Design landscape architecture graduate Luke Nichols knows firsthand the struggles many Minnesotans face when trying to find affordable housing. Raised in a single-parent household, Nichols experienced periods of homelessness while growing up.

Driven by his experiences, Nichols focused his capstone project on creating affordable housing in Duluth, MN.

The project sprang from the Design Duluth Studio, Nichols says. The studio is a nine-year partnership between the College of Design and the Duluth community. Students identify challenges the city is facing and then produce landscape and architectural design solutions.

Nichols’ project, entitled the Cabin Cooperative, proposes a plan to build affordable small-scale housing, or tiny homes, on vacant land throughout the city.

“Duluth has ... an abundance of tax-forfeited land that sits idle. It seemed like a no-brainer to leverage the political will to develop these slivers of land,” says Nichols.

One of the most difficult aspects was financing. Nichols reached out to professionals in the field for cost estimates and referenced how-to guides to create research-based estimates for the expenses.

“When I came to the table with a design that not only met zoning requirements but also had a financial model, people were very receptive,” he says.

The enthusiastic response from Duluth stakeholders caught him by surprise.

“I knew from the beginning that Duluth was eager to try something different. Duluth’s mayor, Emily Larson, has been an avid supporter of my project, [and] the nonprofit community in Duluth has also experimented with it, but never at the scale I am proposing.”

To date, Nichols has spoken with developers, lenders, and state agencies to see how he can begin forming an LLC to take the project to the next level.

“In the end, I want to both change mindsets about how to provide affordable housing and change the Duluth housing environment in order to offer more options to families like my own.”

This story appeared in its original format at the U of M College of Design blog.