Home & Garden

Tiny houses in NoDa? Well, almost

Paul McBroom, longtime NoDa landlord and former co-owner of the Neighborhood Theatre, has three tiny houses in his real estate portfolio. Well, technically, they're not tiny houses at 600 square feet – 100 square feet above the max size most consider tiny. But the zoning designation he used to create these rental units could be used to build tinier homes on a foundation. A large front porch gives the homes more living space.
Paul McBroom, longtime NoDa landlord and former co-owner of the Neighborhood Theatre, has three tiny houses in his real estate portfolio. Well, technically, they're not tiny houses at 600 square feet – 100 square feet above the max size most consider tiny. But the zoning designation he used to create these rental units could be used to build tinier homes on a foundation. A large front porch gives the homes more living space. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

These may not be the tiny houses some imagine as a way to cut living expenses, shrink their carbon footprint and free themselves from hours of chores by living in less than 500 square feet.

Yet owners Paul McBroom and wife Sharon Pate say their three little 600-square-foot detached homes offer what many single young professional are looking for, including an address in Charlotte’s hot NoDa neighborhood, northeast of uptown along North Davidson Street.

“A lady called me about renting it as soon as the sign went up,” McBroom said about one of the units. “I could rent 10 more today if I had them built. The demand for them is tremendous, and it’s only going to get bigger.”

Technically, these are bigger than most tiny houses, but many would argue that they do fit into the small house movement. A sliver of the population is thumbing its nose at the McMansions that are gobbling up lots in older neighborhoods in cities such as Charlotte.

There are people who would not be able to live in NoDa if they couldn’t rent an (accessory) dwelling unit.

Paul McBroom

The small house movement is also a slap at the ideals that have caused new home sizes to swell – by 50 percent since 1970 according to one report. Many in the small house movement see that type of growth as unsustainable and ecologically unsound, according to the popular blog The Tiny Life.

These were not the concerns that led McBroom and Pate, longtime NoDa landlords and former owners of the Neighborhood Theatre, to build small homes after years of renovating more traditional single-family homes, including many former mill houses.

They built the smaller, all-plywood houses on the same lot with existing rental homes during the past three years as a way to add more affordable housing in NoDa while also boosting their property values.

New rules, new housing concepts

The city of Charlotte calls this couple’s smaller homes “accessory dwellings,” permissible under a zoning amendment adopted by City Council in 2012 to help build the inventory of affordable housing.

Costs for materials and labor for this concept are about $100 per square foot. The one-bedroom, one bath units rent for $800 a month, compared with $1,275 or more for most of the 16 other homes in the couple’s rental property portfolio.

“There are people who would not be able to live in NoDa if they couldn’t rent an (accessory) dwelling unit,” said McBroom.

Some NoDa homeowners were concerned to see rental houses go up behind rental houses, said Patsy Kinsey, the District 1 city councilwoman who represents the NoDa neighborhood. Kinsey hasn’t heard complaints recently, she said.

McBroom and Pate have bought, improved and sold about 30 houses in NoDa since he came to Charlotte in 1970. For more than seven years they owned and operated Neighborhood Theatre. They sold the business in 2003 and sold the building around 2007.

At one time McBroom and Pate had plans to build two dozen of the accessory homes, but lately they are devoting more time to their family. McBroom thinks these small houses could work in many neighborhoods in Charlotte, with rental rates scaled to their location.

Rules of the small house movement

State building codes are one of the main factors shaping North Carolina’s emerging small and tiny house movement, although some are building homes on wheels that do not conform.

A residential dwelling must have at least one habitable room that is no smaller than 120 square feet, as well as a bathroom and a kitchen area. “We estimate it would be difficult to build a tiny home to code in North Carolina much smaller than 200 square feet,” according to officials at Mecklenburg County Code Enforcement.

When you look at $800 a month, that is not very affordable for a person working at a job that pays less than $14 an hour.

Floyd Davis, president and CEO of Community Link

Other state and local codes and ordinances also may apply. For example, the city of Charlotte limits the maximum size of accessory dwellings such as McBroom’s to half the size of the main house. That means accessory homes may not work well in neighborhoods with smaller homes, although those neighborhoods are often more affordable.

These accessory dwellings probably won’t help address the city’s most urgent need for affordable housing, either. The greatest need is among families, and one-bedroom units most often would not be adequate, said Floyd Davis, president and CEO of Community Link, which helps individuals and families find affordable housing. The price for the NoDa rentals also would make them out of reach for many people, Davis said.

“When you look at $800 a month, that is not very affordable for a person working at a job that pays less than $14 an hour,” Davis said. “That represents around 40 percent of our workforce.”

Still, McBroom believes there is a strong market for his design in trendier neighborhoods that attract single young professionals. Many tend to delay marriage and starting a family and might prefer a well-designed single-family unit instead of an apartment, he said.

At the same time, many homeowners aren’t getting much use out of their backyards, and an accessory dwelling could give them additional income.

“It uses existing lots and existing infrastructure, so there’s no cost to the city for somebody building one,” he said. “It increases the tax base, and a lot of people don’t want their backyard anymore.”

Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms

Backyard homes

▪ The primary and accessory homes must be owned by the same person.

▪ Maximum size for an accessory home is 800 square feet, but it can be no more than half the size of the principal house (for a freestanding building) and cover no more than 30 percent of the rear yard.

▪ One parking space must be provided, and the primary and accessory home must share a driveway unless on a corner lot.

▪ Roof and exterior walls and finishes must be similar in composition and appearance to those of principal house.

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