- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) - A Syracuse nonprofit group has proposed building townhouses for the homeless that would cost less than $14,000 each. Why so cheap?

In part, it’s because the houses would be tiny. Each house would be 12 feet wide and 14 feet long - about the size of a garden shed.

Across town in the Hawley-Green neighborhood, two entrepreneurs are planning a similar venture with tiny houses, but not for the homeless. This time, the target market is young urban professionals or empty nesters.

Cindy Seymour and Laura Serway, the owners of Laci’s Tapas Bar, tell the Syracuse Post-Standard (https://bit.ly/1GDwFOv ) they plan to build six 400-square-foot houses on a single city lot in their neighborhood. Each homebuyer would have the option to add a 200 square-foot loft, Seymour said.

The houses are expected to sell for $70,000 to $85,000, Seymour said. She already has verbal commitments from four potential buyers.

Seymour and Serway, doing business as Laci’s Real Estate Ventures LLC, are still shopping for a building lot and figuring out how to comply with zoning rules.

Likewise, A Tiny Home for Good Inc. is looking for a location to build its tiny houses for the homeless.

Both ventures illustrate the growing appeal of tiny houses, which beckon to a wide variety of people who view traditional housing as a waste of money, energy and space. Fueled by the housing bust and the economic recession, the market for tiny homes has been gathering steam for several years.

Any house less than 500 square feet is “tiny” by American standards, but many tiny house aficionados move into spaces one-quarter that size. Some tiny houses are built on trailers, like mobile homes. Others are stationary.

Volunteer groups across the nation have latched onto tiny homes as affordable housing for the poor that can be built without government subsidies.

Carmen Guidi, who owns an auto body shop several miles outside Ithaca, donated seven acres of land near his business and spearheaded the development of Second Wind Cottages, a cluster of 320-square-foot houses that shelter formerly homeless men. The first seven cottages were completed in January 2014.

Tiny-house initiatives to help the homeless have sprouted up in other cities including Eugene, Ore.; Olympia, Wash.; Austin, Texas; Madison, Wisc.; and Huntsville, Ala.

In Syracuse, A Tiny Home for Good, a new nonprofit group, recently asked the Greater Syracuse Land Bank to donate a vacant lot on the Near West Side for the development of three side-by-side tiny townhomes for the homeless.

The group estimated the total cost for three homes at under $40,000 — or less than $14,000 each. The cost is low in part because the project has a commitment from Hope for Us Housing Corp. to provide discounted labor.

Each house would contain 168 square feet of living space — a single living room/kitchen, a bathroom and a sleeping loft. Compared with the average new American home, the tiny houses would contain roughly the same square footage as a master bathroom, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Some neighbors of the Marcellus Street lot expressed strong opposition to A Tiny Home for Good’s proposal, fearing that it could bring more crime and poverty to a poor area that is struggling to rebound. As a result, A Tiny Home likely will seek a different location, said Syracuse Common Councilor Bob Dougherty, who is on the board of directors.

The partners in Laci’s Real Estate Ventures are looking to buy a privately owned lot in Hawley-Green, Seymour said. They envision a cluster of six homes, three on each side of a path, facing each other. Each would have a private, walled six-foot by 20-foot back yard, she said.

The energy-efficient houses would be built on slabs with radiant in-floor heating, robust insulation and southern-facing windows. Seymour said she’s planning a small communal water tower that would collect rain for flushing toilets.

Some potential buyers have already expressed interest, Seymour said. Most are empty nesters.

“They live in these 4,000-square-foot homes in Camillus or Manlius and don’t want to be there anymore with the kids gone,” Seymour said. “They want to move back into the city and to be city bound without renting an apartment and without living in another 2,000-square-foot house.”

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