No one in Amanda Funk’s family had ever owned a home.
Funk, 25, a former intern at Cass Community Social Services and a student at Wayne State University who carries $78,000 in student loans, never saw herself owning one, either.
“Not having that seed planted in me that someday you buy a house and you own it and you take care of it. My whole life, you rent and you pay someone else to take care of it or someone else to fix it and you don’t learn those things,“ said Funk.
In October, Funk will join a handful of new residents moving into Cass Community Social Services’ Tiny Homes Detroit community.
Renters pay a dollar per square foot for homes ranging from 226 to 400 square feet on 30-foot by 100-foot lots. After seven years, the home will legally become their home.
Each one of the current 19 homes looks and feels completely different. Soon there will be 25 and all of them are already spoken for.
The program serves low-income people who are formerly homeless, formerly incarcerated, a senior citizen or a young adult who has aged out of foster care.
It opens a path to homeownership that wouldn’t be available to those who can’t qualify for a mortgage.
The Rev. Faith Fowler, executive director of Cass Community Social Services and creator of the Tiny Homes program, took a quick break recently from preparations for this weekend’s Tiny Homes Detroit Tour to talk to the Free Press.
“I suspect that when I’m ready to retire, the first people will be signing the deeds,” Fowler said. “That’s going to feel good.”
The tour of the community south of the Davison and west of the Lodge freeways runs Friday to Sunday and is to raise money for more homes in the future. The tour also is the only opportunity for the public to see inside several of the new homes.
Going a step further for homeless people
Fowler’s organization serves more than 300 homeless men, women, and children every night. Fowler wanted to go a step further than homelessness and provide them the opportunity to own an asset.“Poor people tend to live in a nondescript ugly identical housing that doesn’t inspire pride,” Fowler said while sitting in the bright and homey bay window of a mini-Victorian house. “We wanted the houses to be as different as the people who live inside.”
Plus home is more than a place to stay, she said.
“We all have those times and we all need support. For most of us in this country, it’s our house. Our house is our piggy bank,” Fowler said.
“It’s what we use to get a loan. It’s what we use to help with taxes. It’s what we leave our kids or grandkids when we die. Except if you’re poor.” she added. “Even in death, my mom left me stuff. She left me money. She left me a cabin.
“And that’s what it came from. I mean, I hate to say my mom gets the credit because you know all those years of fighting with your mother,” said Fowler laughing.
Fowler said the program aimed for new neighbors to be diverse.
“We wanted to diversify the community in terms of age and experience and education because that’s why you’re drawn to a city right — everybody’s not like you,” said Fowler.
One new neighbor is a veteran who served in the Middle East and is ready to downsize. One is a senior who’s struggling financially to stay where she’s at.
And there is Amanda Funk, who left home at 17 when it was no longer safe to be there, who is just trying to get through school and have a decent life.
“There was a lot of drug activity,” she said. People don’t believe that in the suburbs people’s parents struggle with addiction.
“And, you walk out of that and then what?
“How do you figure out life? How do you know if you didn’t have parents to show you how to pay a mortgage every month or how to pay a water bill every month?’”
New obligations, new support system
As a resident, Funk and her new neighbors will meet with a coach once a month to learn financial literacy. She will meet, together with the other residents, to work out homeowner issues in the community and volunteer eight hours monthly.
“So I don’t care if they know how to build a house or not. I care about whether or not they’re improving the relationships within the neighborhood — they know each other and care for each other — not just the tiny homes part of the neighborhood but the larger neighborhood,” Fowler said.
“I feel like, thank you, why am I worthy to be here and deserve this? I’m just thankful this is my home. Yeah. Look at it,” said Funk, looking up at her new bedroom loft large enough for a queen-size bed with room to spare. “To be worthy of that chance is a blessing.”
Fowler said people like Amanda Funk are actually why they’re building these houses. They are doing everything right. And this is just a “little boost.”
“It’s a big boost. It is a Big Boost,” Funk said.
She wants to leave a legacy for her siblings, “show them that it’s possible — doable,” she said.
“We can come from bad places. Bad starting points. But they’re not the finish. They’re not the finish line. They’re where we started. And I may have started 20 yards before you did, but you know what? I can reach back and hold your hand and bring you up,” Funk said.
“This is such a privilege. You know what I mean? Like, you’re giving me a house? You’re not just giving me a house you’re giving me a purpose and you’re giving me a way to pay it forward to others,” said Funk.
A surprise for naysayers
Fowler points out the neighborhood’s friendly flower competition in response to critics who predicted crack houses.
“We had to put in rain barrels for every house so we wouldn’t go broke,” she said. “And then I think the next one will be Christmas — who has the best lights you know.
“And we didn’t have Christmas lights here for 20 years. We didn’t have any kids riding bikes up and down the streets. We didn’t have kids trick or treating. It’s fun to see it come back.”