Habitat for Humanity launches tiny house project

This house in the Carver community is the first tiny house build to come from Habitat for Humanity of Cabarrus County's Tiny House Project.
This house in the Carver community is the first tiny house build to come from Habitat for Humanity of Cabarrus County's Tiny House Project. COURTESY OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY CABARRUS COUNTY

In a few weeks, Barbara Gorman will have a house to call her own.

It’s a first for her, and it’s a first of its kind for its builder, Habitat for Humanity of Cabarrus County, as the nonprofit housing ministry launches a pilot program called The Tiny House Project.

The plan – to build one 450- to 500-square-foot home a year for the next three years – will serve a demographic the organization couldn’t help much in the past: those with very low incomes who are ineligible for other services.

“It’s targeted for a specific population: singles or couples that are generally disabled and older,” said Shirley Kennerly, family services coordinator for the Cabarrus affiliate. “Folks like Barb I’ve had to turn away because they don’t make enough money to qualify for our mortgages.”

Gorman, 49, who is on disability with debilitating arthritis, found herself homeless when her marriage ended.

“I spent some time in the Salvation Army shelter,” she said. “Then, the rest of the time I was without an address of my own, I spent in my brother’s basement.”

When she moves into her new, 486-square-foot home in July, her mortgage will be less than half the cost of her current, $500-per-month rent living in transitional housing now. Instead, she’ll pay $207 a month and have a utility bill averaging $40.

The typical Habitat house is about 1,250 square feet, has a floor plan that includes three or four bedrooms and is built with a family in mind. Interest-free mortgages make payments top out around $500 per month.

In comparison, the tiny house floor plan will be around 500 square feet, have one bedroom and be built for one or two people, maximum.

Tiny houses have been on the rise in the past decade as more people equate simpler living with fewer square feet. It’s difficult to track how many currently exist in the United States because they don’t require the same building permits as larger houses, and some tiny house homeowners build under the radar to avoid zoning laws.

According to the National Association of Realtors, 1 percent of American home-buyers bought a 1,000-square-foot or less home in 2014.

Part of the appeal comes from their smart use of space. Dene Dawson, program manager for Gorman’s tiny house, compares its design to that of an RV or yacht, which incorporate pocket doors, Murphy beds and other space-saving ideas.

“We’re hoping when we get it built and people go through it, it will enlighten them,” said Dawson. “It’s a lot bigger than you think.”

Habitat for Humanity of Cabarrus County broke ground on Gorman’s house, in the Carver community, in February. The land, donated by the city of Kannapolis, is enough for two more tiny homes.

Gorman looks forward to meeting her new neighbors and welcoming her future ones.

“When I was growing up, we moved around a lot, and when I got married we moved a couple of times, so this will finally be me, being independent, being able to put down roots and connect with the community like I haven’t been able to before.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at

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