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Crowdfunding bid sought for tiny house project in Garfield

Tom Fontaine
| Saturday, June 13, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

It may take a big crowd and about $200,000 to build a $100,000 tiny house in Garfield.

Downtown nonprofit cityLAB said Friday that it is preparing to start an online fundraising campaign to attain about $100,000 so it can build a 350-square-foot home on North Atlantic Avenue. It will be part of a larger crowdfunding effort the nonprofit is starting called Small Change.

The tiny house project has an overall price tag of $190,905, about a third of which is needed to prepare the vacant lot for construction. That includes a $49,000 grant from the city's Urban Redevelopment Authority, a $27,500 grant from nonprofit Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., an $11,000 grant from nonprofit Neighborhood Allies and a $3,905 donation of kitchen and bathroom materials from furniture chain IKEA.

URA on Thursday approved awarding its grant.

CityLAB predicts it will sell the home for $99,500.

“Typically, a bank would finance the majority of a construction loan,” cityLAB wrote on its website.

“But since the Garfield tiny house is the first tiny house to be built in Pittsburgh, there are no comparables, and since there are no comparables, there is no established market. This is a problem for most banks,” cityLAB said.

Through the crowdfunding effort, investors in the tiny house project stand to “get their money back and hopefully a small return,” said cityLAB President and CEO Eve Picker.

Tiny houses — newly constructed homes of up to 900 square feet — have gained a lot of attention in recent years. Books, documentaries and television shows focus on what serves as a countertrend to Americans' appetite for bigger homes. The average size of a home built last year was 2,657 square feet, up from 1,660 square feet in 1973, census data show.

Picker said it will cost about $65,000 to prepare the vacant lot for a home, including running utilities to the site. She would like to build six more tiny homes in Garfield in a second phase of work, and thinks that doing so simultaneously could reduce average site preparation costs.

“We'd pay a consultant at least $49,000 to look at these issues (related to tiny-home development), so I think this is a worthwhile investment,” URA Chairman Kevin Acklin said Thursday before the agency's board approved awarding its grant.

Garfield is home to about 3,700 people — down from more than 11,000 in the mid-1900s — and has more than 300 vacant lots. Picker thinks developers might be able to fill in the empty lots more quickly with tiny houses, bring more inexpensive new homes to the market and, should the effort take off in Garfield, make the neighborhood a destination.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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