Nonprofit aims to put mini homes on city sites
Council members like idea, which finds use for small or irregularly shaped lots
CHAMPAIGN — Restoration Urban Ministries officials say they have found a way to build homes for the poor on vacant lots that are too small for a more traditional-sized house.
They're calling them "mini homes," modular-style buildings that look a lot like standalone studio apartments. The group wants to build them on land currently owned by the city, and council members say they are very much in support of the idea.
The conversation stems from the city marketing a list of about a dozen small properties it owned but had no use for. A few were sold to the adjoining property owners. Two were sold to Habitat for Humanity for $10 each.
But two others — at 410 W. Maple St. and 509 Alabama Ave. — were too small or irregularly shaped for a traditional home, said Champaign community development specialist Greg Skaggs.
"They were too small for Habitat," Skaggs said. "They couldn't do anything with them."
And, he added, there are people out there who still cannot afford even a Habitat for Humanity home.
That's where Restoration Urban Ministries came in with its idea for mini homes. The Rev. Ervin Williams, executive director of the nonprofit group, said there are plenty of people out there who may have jobs but remain poor.
"They may never be able to earn enough to own a house that has any size to it," Williams said. "But they work hard."
The two mini homes will be small. In the beginning, the bedroom, living room and kitchen would all occupy the same space. But they would be built in a modular style, leaving open the opportunity for future expansion.
They are expected to have a selling price between $25,000 and $30,000. Restoration Urban Ministries would carry the mortgage during the first 18 months with the hope that the owner would be able to finance the balance after that initial period.
Officials hope it will be an opportunity for someone to escape the cycle of poverty, moving someone from homelessness to home ownership and eventually independence.
"And that's quite a long haul right there," Williams said.
The city council this week supported donating the lots to Restoration Urban Ministries.
"It's a great way to tackle a problem that we all know is endemic in this area," council member Marci Dodds said.
The storyline may be even more important than the structures themselves, council member Will Kyles said. He said it is inspiring to see the faith-based organization give another hand up to people who are having a hard time.
"More importantly than the structures — I'm excited about this — is the consistency and the persistence even when things didn't go your way," Kyles said.
Williams said he hopes the two mini homes serve as an example to everyone about what is possible.
"The American dream is not dead," Williams said. "For some groups of people, it may need to be revitalized. It may need to be changed a little bit. But it's not dead."