Tiny homes in Tampa? Affordable housing advocates welcome the idea

SunDog Structures, a Tampa builder of homes made out of storage containers, presented a business model to the Tampa City Council on Thursday. [Courtesy of SunDog Structures]
SunDog Structures, a Tampa builder of homes made out of storage containers, presented a business model to the Tampa City Council on Thursday. [Courtesy of SunDog Structures]
Published October 25 2018
Updated October 26 2018

TAMPA —Two paths to ease Tampa’s affordable housing crisis, tiny houses and upscale urban homes, met with two very different reactions Thursday at a City Council workshop.

Tiny homes came out the crowd favorite.

Domain Homes, which has drawn some opposition in areas such as St. Petersburg’s Midtown neighborhood, faced a hostile reception from about a dozen East Tampa residents who said company plans to sell new houses for $180,000 to $224,000 would push out residents in the predominantly black, low-income area.

RELATED: Domain Homes? Buyers love them, some others don’t

That opinion was shared by council chairman Frank Reddick, who represents East Tampa. Reddick said residents have long sought a grocery story on some of the city-owned land targeted by Domain but that the requests have been ignored.

In an exchange with city housing officials, Reddick said residents in the neighborhood can’t afford what Domain is offering — homes in the 1,200 square foot to 1,800 square foot range, according to its website.

"The wishes of the people have not been honored," Reddick said.

The search for a grocer has gone on for 11 years with no takers, said Ed Johnson, manager of the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area — a designation given neighborhoods considered blighted and in need of investment.

A citizen advisory committee approved the transfer of the lots to Domain, Johnson said.

What’s more, the city already has signed a contract with Domain to develop about 85 parcels in the East Tampa area, housing officials said. The company is living up to the contract, they said. A Domain official promised to talk with community leaders and affordable home builders about including them in plans.

East Tampa residents haven’t been properly informed of these plans, said Carol Ransom, a community activist. Town hall meetings should be held and more answers given to avoid further bad blood, she said.

"There will be a push back," Ransom said.

Later in the meeting Thursday, executives from SunDog Structures, a Tampa company that builds homes out of storage containers, told council members they can build a 640-square-foot home for about $83,200. SunDog has a handful of projects already underway in the city.

"We thought it would be a millennial thing, but it turns out that it’s something that everybody is really interested in," said Robert Cox, the company’s chief executive.

Aside from being cheap, storage container homes don’t need much maintenance and they’re in high demand in hurricane-prone areas. Storage containers can float for days if they fall off a ship, Cox said.

"Hopefully, a hurricane doesn’t make you then have to float in this," quipped council member Mike Suarez.

The lower price point was much more appealing to Ransom and other East Tampa residents who stuck around to listen the tiny homes presentations.

"Eighty-thousand dollars is affordable," she said, adding that initial conversations with the company had been encouraging. The agreed to consider hiring minority contractors and local youths.

Council member Harry Cohen said the city should pursue the tiny homes idea.

"This is a way to start to move toward new housing ideas," Cohen said.

People are starting to realize they can be happy with less than what is considered a traditional house today, said council member Luis Viera.

"Over the last forty years, our homes, our cars, our waistlines have gotten bigger and I don’t think we’re much happier," Viera said.

Right now, tiny homes can be built anywhere in the city on a lot zoned for a single-family home. And in Seminole Heights, thanks to special zoning rules approved a few years ago, property owners can add a tiny home in the back yard and rent it out, said Thom Snelling, the city’s director of planning and development.

At Cohen’s suggestion, the council agreed to schedule another workshop Dec. 6 on the barriers to building more tiny homes in the city.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]