By Faith Miller
Woodland Park developers think a planned “small house” community called the Village at Tamarac is the answer to many people’s tiny-home dreams. But think “dreams” in terms of lifestyle, not cost — affordable housing experts say developments like these aren’t for those looking for a deal.
The Village at Tamarac will offer 53 models, says Pete LaBarre, one of the developers behind the project. The homes are a little too big to be considered “tiny homes,” which normally top out at 400 square feet.
Manufactured by Champion Home Builders, each small house — 500 square feet with a 500-square-foot crawl space — will cost about $115,000. While that may seem like a bargain, homebuyers won’t own the lots their homes sit on, and each site will cost an additional $600 to $700 a month to lease. In other words, it’s a similar setup to buying a mobile home — except the home can’t be moved elsewhere.
That could be a problem for some. Residents in mobile home parks that are on fixed or low incomes can struggle with rent increases. And not all trailers can be moved to another lot if rents become unaffordable, which can lead to foreclosure. Of course, homes that sit on foundations, like the ones to be built at the Village, can’t be moved.
But LaBarre says his tenants are better protected than many trailer owners. He’s offering all buyers a 99-year lease, and while there will be rent escalation provisions, LaBarre says they’re being included to “protect ourselves in the event of really high inflation.” It’s also worth noting that the developers won’t have an interest in the mortgages because they are not lending to tenants, which sometimes happens in mobile home parks.
“Our passion is to try to bring more affordable, more obtainable housing, in this kind of price range where there just isn’t any,” LaBarre says.
But Jamie Pemberton, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County, says developments like these won’t solve the area’s affordable housing problem. (A 2016 assessment identified the need for at least 741 rental, workforce, senior and other housing units in Woodland Park.)
Let’s assume that you can make a 20-percent down payment of $23,000 on one of the small houses. If you have good credit, you could get a 30-year fixed loan and pay about $522 a month. But when you add the $600 monthly lot fee to that, you’re paying $1,122 a month to live in your small house for 30 years.
And theoretically, you’d have to keep paying $600 a month to lease the lot (though LaBarre says developers hope to sell the Village at Tamarac back to the community in five to seven years).
If you purchased a $230,000 house, on the other hand, and made the same down payment of $23,000, you could get a 30-year fixed loan of about $1,079 a month. (To be fair, it’s difficult to find a home in Woodland Park for $230,000 or less.)
“For homebuyers, [leasing land] is not what we recommend,” Pemberton says. “…We actually counsel our families that they can get caught up in this thinking.”
Susan Cummings, Habitat for Humanity’s homebuyer services coordinator, adds that tiny houses aren’t very family-friendly: “Where do you change the diapers? When somebody gets sick, how do you handle that?”
But LaBarre says the choice to purchase a tiny home “typically isn’t about affordability. It’s about lifestyle.” He expects many of the Village at Tamarac’s residents to pay cash for the homes, like many of those living in Peak View Park, a Woodland Park RV and tiny house location that he co-owns.
“The people who are living in Peak View Park, they like living in a smaller space,” LaBarre says. “…There’s less time spent cleaning the house, less time spent maintaining the house. So that translates to, in their view, and in my view, a better quality of life.”
LaBarre says overwhelming demand for spaces in Peak View Park led him and a few other developers, as the group M3XP2 LLC, to propose the small house development.
They couldn’t expand the tiny house community at Peak View Park, LaBarre says, because Teller County’s building code no longer allows long-term residence in towable homes. Because the Village at Tamarac’s small houses will be secured by foundations, the development can follow the same building code as typical subdivisions.
The developers received preliminary approval from Woodland Park, LaBarre says, and plan to close on the property in February or March in time to have homes available in August.
Interest is growing — as of Jan. 17, there were already 34 people on the waitlist. LaBarre says their demographics parallel those of residents of Peak View Park, which is most popular with single women between the ages of 45 and 65. When eliminating short-term rental properties, LaBarre says 54 percent of that park’s lots are occupied by single women, with and without children. The women he’s spoken with say they’re drawn by the sense of independence, the community’s safety and a simpler lifestyle.
Wendy Hartshorn, vice president of marketing for the Village at Tamarac, is moving to Peak View Park to start “a new chapter.”
“I started researching tiny homes years ago, and so this was kind of the dream,” she says. “I’m starting over fresh, and I’m able to simplify and cut costs. And I’m really excited.”
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Business Journal’s sister publication, the Colorado Springs Independent.