At 200 square feet, the home Sean Dixon plans to build in Duluth's Central Hillside this summer promises to be the smallest permanent residence built in the city in recent history.
But Dixon, CEO of Simply Tiny Development, based in Colorado, plans to build 13 more of the compact rental units in Duluth, assuming the local market responds as positively as he expects it will.
The small footprint of the homes opens up opportunities for heretofore unrealized infill development, said Jason Hale, senior housing planner for the city of Duluth. He explained that some of the city’s older lots of record are too small to accommodate larger traditional homes and still abide by current setback requirements.
Hale said the downsized homes aren’t for everyone but have generated a lot of interest.
“Anything new gets a variety of reactions. But I also think that, if we’re going to maximize density and infrastructure that already exists, this is a really nice way of doing that with a new product,” he said, noting the alternative expense of continued urban sprawl.
Dixon said the small homes often appeal to people who want to spend more time outdoors. Simply Tiny first earned notoriety for producing conversion camper vans but is now moving into tiny homes.
People also may be motivated by concern for the planet, according to Dixon.
As the world continues to grow more crowded and resources become more precious, he said, “We have a few options: You can build up; you can build down; or you can just build smaller. We chose option C and decided to build smaller.”
The house Simply Tiny plans to build in Duluth contains everything a resident would need to live self sufficiently, including a kitchen, a bathroom with shower, a washer and dryer, a living room, a sleeping loft and a front porch to enjoy the outdoors.
While the home will be small, it won't be inexpensive, especially with lumber and other building material costs spiking as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and demand for housing roars. Dixon said the costs of building supplies are so volatile, it's difficult to predict exactly how much it will take to construct the first home. But he feels certain the price tag for the first home will easily exceed $100,000.
With the benefit of experience and normalized prices for building materials, Dixon expressed confidence, Simply Tiny will see easier times.
“As we get better and we get more efficient, these costs will definitely come down,” he said.
Tiny Development is set to break ground June 15 on its first tiny home in the 800 block of North Sixth Avenue East.
It plans additional larger tiny-home projects in Gary-New Duluth and Duluth’s Fairmount neighborhood in 2022 and 2023.
Hale noted that the small scale of the residences will necessitate lifestyle choices.
“This forces people to be minimalists, because they don’t have a whole lot of other options,” he said.
Duluth opened the door to what it termed “cottage home parks” earlier this year. These developments would consist of clusters of independent miniature homes with off-street parking and shared common outdoor spaces.
Other developers apparently are interested in the same market niche.
Although Hale said it’s too early to disclose details, he has been in discussions with another entity interested in constructing a single development accommodating more than 20 downsized homes, ranging in size from 200 to 400 square feet.
“With building costs what they are and with the housing market so tight and people wanting a little more space after the pandemic or maybe outdoor space that they didn’t have in an apartment situation, I think we’re going to continue to receive more creative proposals like this,” Hale said.
Hale said the city and developers are looking at new ideas out of necessity.
“While this is a dire housing situation in a lot of senses, it also has forced us to look at how we learn to be creative and encourage innovation with a little flexibility,” he said.
“I’m really curious to see, as we get more of these types of development proposals, how that can look and how they can create little communities within communities, and take advantage of their smaller size to do that,” Hale said.
Dixon praised Hale and other city staff for considering new ideas to meet the community’s housing needs, saying: “Duluth is definitely taking a leap of faith, which is why we’ve worked very hard with the city. And I can’t say enough about the development folks there.”