First affordable tiny home coming to Pensacola

Madison Arnold, Pensacola News Journal
Published 5:11 a.m. CT Oct. 30, 2020

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What officials believe will be Pensacola’s first affordable housing tiny home soon will be built on La Rua Street.

Developer Kevin Hagen, president of housing nonprofit AMR at Pensacola, said he is just waiting on a final building permit to construct the 336-square-foot house, which he expects to be complete in the first quarter of 2021.

The house will be an example of the kinds of homes AMR will build in the near future to help ease the area’s affordable housing crisis.

“We will use it to show the local authorities, anybody that’s interested; here’s exactly what we’re proposing to do so you have something you can identify (with). Anything new is hard for people to accept, and some folks may not want it in their neighborhood. But when they see what we’re going to build and how we’re going to do it, the stigma of it will go away,” Hagen said. 

An architect’s rendering shows a proposed affordable tiny home on La Rua Street. The house likely will be used as a blueprint for more to come in Escambia County. (Photo: Courtesy of AMR at Pensacola)

The unit had to be granted a zoning variance last week to be placed on property owned by AMR, which already has a duplex on it. Most local municipalities have yet to adopt a land ordinance code that specifically allows for tiny homes. 

Beginning next year, the Florida Building Code is set to include new regulations, called Appendix Q, that define exactly what a tiny home is, including features like lofts or no minimum-sized bedrooms. When that happens, Hagen said he hopes local governments will follow. 

“We hope and our anticipation is yes, that once the building code Appendix Q is adopted that the local planning boards will adopt a land ordinance code,” Hagen said. “We hope for all of this to happen early 2021.”

The city of Pensacola completed its Affordable Housing Task Force report in late August. It is meant to be a road map for building 500 affordable homes in the city in five years.

More affordable housing is desperately needed in the city, as shown by a Florida Housing Coalition report that found nine of 10 of Pensacola’s top jobs can’t afford a market-rate, two-bedroom apartment. 

The report says leaders should identify potential sites for in-fill or small-unit development, which could encourage construction of tiny homes. It also suggests the city use a flexible land-use and zoning code to allow for small-unit and manufactured homes to increase the affordable housing stock.

The advantage of tiny homes isn’t that they cost less per square foot than a regular house, Hagen said. Rather, they can be built quickly and with a smaller impact on the land and environment.

“It allows somebody a piece of ownership of their own space. They aren’t sharing an apartment in a large complex. They have their own building that they occupy all to themselves. It’s going to build community. It’s going to build ownership and it’s going to make folks who would otherwise have a hard time either owning and renting their own space get it at a price they can afford,” Hagen said. 

Once complete, the La Rua tiny home will have a 120-square-foot covered front porch, one bedroom, full kitchen with smaller appliances, a pantry, bathroom, closet and stackable washer and dryer.

It will be built on site with a permanent foundation.

“We don’t want to build ourselves out of helping affordable housing. We can build these things and make them as fancy as we could possibly make them, and then not become affordable,” Hagen said. “We’re going to set the rents or the sales prices where we can get buyers that need these units.”

Jim Reeves, attorney for AMR, said he believes the La Rua house will be the first official tiny home in Pensacola.

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AMR doesn’t have a rent price for the La Rua property yet or any rent or sales prices for future projects. 

AMR already has spent $10,000 for designs and permitting on the La Rua property. Because of the hoops, Hagen said the rent prices likely won’t be as affordable as AMR would like them to be. 

However, the organization plans to reuse some floor plans in future projects. Hagen said they won’t all look the same because builders will change up the exterior. 

In conjunction with the first tiny house, AMR at Pensacola is planning a tiny house community at the intersection of T Street and Lakeview Avenue with 12 units. AMR hopes to begin work on that complex in the second quarter of 2021. The project rests on the state building code change that is expected. 

Those are planned to be rented like the La Rua property to see how they operate and to gauge market demand before the nonprofit moves onto developing some for sale.

That project, called the Phoenix Project, was an IMPACT 100 grant winner.

The overall goal of the nonprofit to combat the affordable housing crisis is to build 150 tiny homes in Escambia County. When that might happens depends on land availability and if and when new tiny home-friendly ordinances are passed by local governments. 

“We don’t have any final deadline to build it out. We just want to start the momentum going and keep the momentum going once we get it started,” Hagen said.

Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.

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