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Local woman dreams big about tiny house community

Mary Rogers, assistant planner with Chaves County, has taken some initial steps toward a vision of turning this vacant land in southwest Roswell into a “tiny house” community for those in need. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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All that most people will see about a five-acre site in southwest Roswell is that it is locked in and undeveloped, but to a county staff member and former Army medic, the property is part of a vision to create a “tiny house” community to help those needing to rebuild their lives.

Mary Rogers, an assistant planner with Chaves County, said she knows that she is thinking about a huge project with many odds against her, but she wants to create a housing, job training and work site on vacant land that belongs to her family located off Sunset Avenue near Poe Street.

“I have always had a calling” to service,” said Rogers, who once worked for the Roswell Independent School District as a special education teacher and has experience as a medic working with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers. “I think we all do, but some us are more attuned to it.”

Rogers said that she wants to put at least 20 tiny houses on the land, along with central facilities for showers and a laundry and a community garden, a tire-shredding area and possibly areas for an animal shelter and training center and a clothing exchange unit. Tiny houses are typically defined as 64 square feet to 400 square feet, compared to the average U.S. house size of about 2,100 square feet.

The idea, she said, is not just to provide housing to those in need but to meet the needs of the community and give residents a place to work, not only to gain job skills but as their contribution to living there. One of the jobs could be building the tiny houses to sell to others, Rogers added.

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“In order to get this house, you have to have a job,” she said. “That way they get a skill set. I can put it on their resume that they have done this job.”

She said she doesn’t consider her concept a homeless shelter because people will not be expected to transition out within weeks or months. They can stay years as they gain job skills, earn money and create stability in their lives.

“I am positive that is what they want to do,’ she said about the people she intends to serve. “They don’t want to be out there and looked down upon.”

City of Roswell Planning and Zoning Manager Bill Morris confirmed that he and other staff have met with Rogers to discuss her concept.

“It would require some changes to the code,” said Morris, “but that is something that might be possible.”

He said Rogers would have to go through several steps for approval, including submitting a site plan.

Development of the land, hooking up utilities and building the first 20 houses will cost about $400,000, Rogers estimated, and right now she only has access to some personal savings. But she said she spends her lunch hours talking with local companies, churches, social organizations and individuals to build a volunteer corps that will help build the dream.

Already she has heard of some nearby property owners who are concerned about whether the housing community would attract illegal drug users or people whose behaviors are a problem, but she said she thinks they can be convinced of the merit of the concept and will come to understand the need in Roswell.

“Opposition doesn’t scare me. All opposition is, is because they don’t see the picture,” she said, “so my job is to let them see the picture.”

Although she admits that her idea might not make it, she said she has experience developing new projects. She said she started a salon in a nursing home and an animal rescue operation when she lived in upstate New York and two community gardens when she lived in Tennessee.

Her concept is not modeled on some other site, she said. But tiny house communities are sprouting up in many places in attempts to address homelessness as well as the housing crisis of large cities where small, affordable units are in scant supply.

The nonprofit SquareOne Villages of Oregon, formed in 2012, has developed two tiny house communities and is working on its third. The first one has 30, 8 x 8 transitional housing units but is a “gated” community where only those who have been vetted and approved are allowed to stay. The second one offers 22 permanent houses of about 160 to 300 square feet. The third community, located in a rural area, is modeled after the first.

The group works with many different organizations, including micro-lenders, to assist the people living in the communities, who govern the communities and, in the case of the permanent communities, have small ownership positions in their houses that they can sell back to the community if they leave.

“We try to have the community really own the project,” said board president Lorne Bostwick, a pastor. “We do a lot of work in the beginning to build relationships with community organizations and the city council and such. Then the benefit of that is that we have lots of volunteers and people willing to help us.”

The group’s executive director, Dan Bryant, said that he knows of at least nine other existing tiny house communities in the nation and that his organization is working with six other communities in Oregon interested in developing their own nonprofits to build such communities.

“We think it is a unique model,” he said, “and one that offers some hope to people in desperate need.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.