EDITORIAL: Tiny Homes… and Big Jails, Part One

A small team of economic development experts — from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), and from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) — had their Powerpoint slides and easel pads ready when we arrived at the Ross Aragon Community Center on Monday, October 31 for a day-long discussion about “Tiny Homes.”

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OEDIT’s Meridith Marshall, Health and Wellness Champion and Senior Regional Manager for Regional Development, began by introducing the concept of “Blueprint 2.0” — an initiative from the Governor’s Office to design economic development processes that can be scaled and adapted to various Colorado communities. Since we are all dealing with some of the very same issues.

Like, say, affordable housing, for one example.

From the OEDIT website’s “Colorado Blueprint” page:

Our priority is the creation and retention of jobs and the expansion of companies throughout Colorado. This strategy was developed through a bottom-up process, where we met with thousands of people throughout the state, and focuses on growth in our key industries across all regions.

However, during her introduction, Ms. Marshall told us that “we will make it clear throughout the session that ‘Tiny Homes’ are not considered ‘affordable housing.’ So it’s important to note that. We refer to it as ‘attainable housing.’ If you look at the price per square foot, you’ll note that it’s not more affordable than a regular sized home…”

“So, we heard this need expressed across the state, and affordable housing is a big issue. We have many entities that are working to resolve this; many foundations are now jumping into this and trying to assist… but it’s much larger than what we were hoping to accomplish through ‘Blueprint 2.0’… so we started talking about what we would be able to accomplish. And it was about that time we started talking with Rod and a couple of individuals who manufacture Tiny Homes in the state of Colorado. And Rod was forming the Tiny Homes Industry Association… we have the top three manufacturers of Tiny Homes right here in our state.”

Ms. Marshall is here referring to a gentleman seated behind her — Rod Stambaugh — who was part of the consulting team for the Pagosa work session, and also the “Chief Sproutologist” with the private company, Sprout Tiny Homes, based in La Junta, Colorado.

The consultants’ visit had been funded by a ‘Blueprint 2.0’ grant submitted to OEDIT by the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (PSCDC), the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce, and local businessman Morgan Murri — to support a conceptual “public-private partnership” that was planning to begin construction of 18 “Tiny Homes” at the north end of N. 2nd Street… had the subject property not sold to another buyer in the interim.

About halfway through the work session, Mr. Murri provided an overview of that planned — but now abandoned — project, and it was clear that many of the ideas formulated for this ‘Blueprint’ grant might find an application on a different piece of property… somewhere in Archuleta County?  If indeed ‘Tiny Homes’ are seen as practical, and safe, and consistent with Pagosa neighborhood design. And if indeed Ms. Marshall is incorrect about about their lack of affordability.

Mr. Murri, speaking about his concept:

“So this project involved deed restrictions, and a lot of things that were required to qualify for ownership of one of these homes. It could not be used for [vacation rental]; it had to be owner occupied.. These would have been 400-square-foot homes, built on foundations, fixed to the gird. Brad Ash [of Reynolds Ash & Associates] designed these homes to fit on that piece of property [on N. 2nd Street.]”

Morgan Murri presenting his company’s “Tiny Homes” concept at the October 31 workshop with the ‘Blueprint 2.0” consultants at the Community Center.

Morgan Murri presenting his company’s “Tiny Homes” concept at the workshop offered by ‘Blueprint 2.0’ consultants at the Community Center on October 31, 2016.

“We were using a for-profit model, and we planned to sell these for between $110,000 and $125,000 each.”

As many of our readers are no doubt aware, the Pagosa real estate market currently has a noticeable shortage of homes in that price range. When I searched the Pagosa MLS yesterday, I found just one dwelling unit priced under $150,000 — a condo offered at $135,000 — and just three homes priced between $150,000 and $200,000.

Ms. Marshall referred to Mr. Murri’s concept:

“You applied for this Tiny Homes initiative. We asked you to come together as a team. Your project was well advanced, in terms of some of the applications we received; you had a specific parcel chosen, and frankly one of our concerns was, ‘Well, this is meant to be kind of an introductory conversation; is this still going to work for you?’ So we worked with [Mary Jo Coulehan, Chamber Executive Director] and decided it could still be a fruitful conversation, and beneficial to all of you.”

The other two ‘visiting experts’ — besides Ms. Marshall and Mr. Stambaugh — were Ann Miller, from the DOLA Community Development Office, and Shay Coburn from DOLA’s ‘Colorado Main Street’ program. Each of the visiting consultants brought with them a particular professional background, and a unique perspective on the subject of ‘Tiny Homes’ — although they also came with a somewhat limited understanding of the community we call Pagosa Springs.

We, the 20 local participants, were expected to share our more intimate knowledge of this rural community.

But before we go any further, we ought to define what we mean by “Tiny Homes.” Because there are a couple of rather different meanings knocking around right now, out there in the big wide world. We don’t have a legal definition yet, here in Archuleta County nor in the state of Colorado, and our visiting consultants suggested two possible ways the term is being used.

1. A recreational vehicle (RV) that is a small house on wheels for temporary residency. (Also known, apparently, as a THOW: Tiny Home On Wheels.)

Example:

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or, alternately:

2. A small house, typically smaller than 800 square feet, on a foundation for permanent residency.

Example:

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Ms. Marshall assured us that we would be discussing primarily the second definition: the small house on a permanent foundation, without wheels.

In fact, I believe we actually talked more about the type of dwelling included in Definition #1… the small house on wheels… but intended, perhaps, for permanent residency?

Read Part Two…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.