New Beginnings Inc. building tiny houses to address big needs

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In Hutchinson, the homes are called "economy houses," not tiny houses. 

According to Hutchinson associate planner Aaron Barlow, “tiny houses” conjur up images of the HGTV show and a house on wheels.

The Hutchinson-based New Beginnings Inc., which addresses housing needs, visualizes building three economy homes on a vacant lot at 15 W. 8th Ave. that it purchased not long ago from Hutchinson Land Bank.

“We’re now in the design process,” said Shara Gonzales, president and CEO of New Beginnings. “We had to get the property first.”

According to The Hutchinson News, the plan presented to the Land Bank Board of Trustees showed three economy houses on the approximately 8,857-square-foot rectangular lot, where a house and garage had stood before.  Instead of constructing the homes in a straight row on the lot, the homes would be built in a loose, U-shaped configuration on the land.    

The floor plans put forth at Hutchinson City Hall showed off-street parking by each house. Two of the models each had a distinct bedroom, kitchen, dining, and living area; a smaller model showed a living area but the bedroom area was open to the kitchen. Each home had one bathroom. 

Gonzales said they would be permanent homes — “none of the kind on wheels” — and could accommodate one or two people. She described this housing option as serving “working-class folks that are single.” She commented that sometimes it's hard to find a hone with only one bedroom. 

New Beginnings’ Townhomes at Santa Fe, a 10-home development in the 200 block of W. 5th Avenue, was designed for moderate-income households. The economy homes would be targeted for people who work, but make less than a moderate income. Economy homes could provide a new housing opportunity for a small-income couple, Gonzales said.

New Beginnings has neither the funding for home construction nor a determination on how it will develop the properties. Decisions to be made include whether New Beginnings will rent or sell the homes or retain ownership of the land but sell the homes.

The land on W. 8th Avenue already is zoned R-6 Infill Residential District, Barlow said, which will allow for up to four units on one lot, depending on the size of the lot, without a special permit.  

“They can’t be crammed onto a tiny lot,” Barlow said.

The lot on W. 8th Avenue was never platted, so New Beginnings will need to get that done. Barlow said the city is working on making platting a quicker process.

The city’s Economy Home Design Standards & Use Restrictions state:

• The home must be a minimum of 400 square feet in area and a maximum of 800 square feet in area.

• The setback from the front property is no farther or closer than the average of the adjacent residential properties.

• It must provide a minimum of one paved off-street parking space per unit.

• It should be composed of materials typically associated with residential construction and have an appearance that generally fits the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

• It must be placed on a permanent foundation and served by city water, sewer and other utilities.

Barlow said the proposal from New Beginnings is aligned with the Cottage Court Design Standards & Use Restrictions. That requires a minimum of three dwelling units per development.

The Hutchinson Land Bank works as an intermediary that attempts to improve neighborhoods by putting vacant lots to productive use, according to the city. The Land Bank bought the vacant lot on W. 8th Avenue at the 2017 Reno County tax sale for $59, according to a city staff report. It had invested an overall amount of $1,009 in the property, paying for mowing and removal of a tree, as of late September 2019.

The starting asking price for Land Bank property is 50% of the market value of the property, as determined by the Reno County appraiser. The vacant lot was appraised at $890, and New Beginnings offered half that amount for the lot. The Land Bank board approved the offer this fall.

“The board was excited about the potential for this project,” Barlow said.