Affordable bungalows are reminiscent of a charming 19th-century estate

A rare type of housing development has just been built on a formerly vacant urban lot in Tempe, Arizona, not far from the Arizona State University campus. Unlike the plentiful rental apartments geared toward college crowds or the sprawling single-family homes that fill subdivisions in the area, the new project sacrifices size and profit to offer something almost impossible to find there: small Houses arranged around a common courtyard, offered for sale at consistently low prices.


The 13-home project is an example of ancient construction updated for modernity. Twelve of the homes are identical, 600-square-foot, one-bedroom lofts. The other is a single story home that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act. All share a central green space, a 900 square meter common room and a communal kitchen. The homes, intended for sale to those earning less than 80% of the area’s median income, are a throwback to a time when homes didn’t have to be big and expensive.

“The idea of ​​building a small cluster of houses around a central courtyard is really a historical way America grew. And then we got away from it,” says David Crommey, project leader of Newtown CDCthe Tempe-based nonprofit that developed the project.

Bungalow dishes, or cottage courts, were found in almost every major town in the early 20th century, but the market has gradually moved away from this compact form of housing. “With the consolidation of the mortgage market and the increase in the number of large subdivisions, small-scale development has really, really fallen off the list,” says Crommey.


When it comes to affordable housing, the bungalow farm makes a lot of sense, he says. Without the need for an entire expensive lot or the parking and road access of the typical car-oriented project, homes like these can be built at a much lower cost.

For Crummey, whose organization typically does single-family home renovations to sell to low-income first-time buyers, this so-called micro-real estate project seemed like a way to do more with less.

The project started in 2015 a student design exercise. Engineering students at ASU were tasked with coming up with ideas for housing on city lots, and one project proposed turning that space into a tiny residential village. Officials in the city saw the proposal and liked it so much that they issued a request for more proposals.

Newtown CDC introduced a design that prioritized efficient homes to keep prices down. It also made the houses part of a common land trust, a non-profit organization that actually owns the land and creates a sale-like long-term lease on the home to keep the price well below market. Buyers get a good deal on the homes and share in the proceeds of a future sale, while the nonprofit organization continues to manage the property and maintain affordable prices.


Newtown CDC won the project and the city donated the land. Crommey worked with a local architectural firm coLab studio, whose director, Matt Salenger, lives in the neighborhood. He says the concept of creating micro-settlements was immediately reminiscent of the Tim Burton film Big fishwhich takes place in a fictional small town that seems to be almost magically hidden in a forest.

“The houses face a main street, but there’s no paving, just grass and trees,” says Salenger. “David [Crummey] and I had a real connection to trying to make the landscape what was there in the first place.”

The project they built is reminiscent of this sidewalk-free community, with a large central open space lined with planters and trees, and small patios between each home that lack clear ownership and encourage more social interaction.

The homes themselves are also innovatively designed, with choices designed to keep costs down while still providing comfortable living space. “Doors and glazing are among the most expensive aspects of any building. So we limited it to an outside door. There are four exterior windows. There is only one interior door for the bathroom, which is under the stairs,” says Salenger. “We have thought of every single centimetre.”


The homes all sold for $170,000 each, except for the ADA-compliant home, which cost $210,000. Crummey says the homes were recently valued at $260,000. “At most, it’s a $50,000 sale below market price,” he says. And as part of the Community Land Trust, the homes will continue to be below market price regardless of when the current owners decide to sell.

“These are unique homes,” says Salenger. “There’s nothing like that in town.” Affordable bungalows are reminiscent of a charming 19th-century estate


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