By Paulina Pineda| February 21st, 2020
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First-time homebuyers Leslie Debusk and Marina Copeland looked at condos in the Tempe area but said they were too expensive for the size and that the homes didn’t provide enough privacy. 

Long interested in living in a tiny home because of low maintenance costs and the smaller ecological footprint, Debusk and Copeland said they couldn’t justify buying a larger but cheaper home in the suburbs for just the two of them.

So a community of 13 small homes — 600-square-foot each — planned in the Jen Tilly Terrace neighborhood in north Tempe intrigued them. 

The couple, who have been married five years and live in a rental near the Tempe-Mesa border, were among the first in line last fall to apply to purchase one of the homes in Tempe Micro Estates, as the project is called. 

Their dream of owning one of the homes came a step closer to reality on Thursday with a ceremonial groundbreaking. Actual work is expected to begin in a April or May and wrap up by the end of the year or early 2021. 

Newtown Community Development Corporation, a Tempe-based nonprofit, is building the homes in a partnership with the city to provide more affordable housing options. 

Prices for the micro homes are still being finalized but will likely be between $165,000 and $215,000 depending on the homeowner’s income, according to Stephanie Brewer, the deputy director of Newtown. 

“This isn’t the solution, but it is a solution to affordable housing and workforce housing issues," Tempe Vice Mayor Lauren Kuby said.

Partnering for affordable housing

The idea is to offer a new type of affordable housing option as Phoenix-area residents feel the squeeze of rising costs to rent and buy a home.

Metro Phoenix’s median home price climbed to a record $290,000 last month and the market doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

It is estimated that Arizona will need 100,000 affordable homes to meet the needs of people expected to move here in the next decade.

Tempe Micro Estates will be built on three vacant lots near Rita Lane and Spence Avenue, which Tempe purchased with federal funds to spur the development of affordable housing.

The homes will be sold for below market value, said Allen Carlson, Newtown’s executive director.

About half the homes will be available for people making less than 80% of the area's median income, which is $46,650 for a two-person household.

Prices are still being finalized but Newtown estimates that homes will be between $165,000 and $185,000 for the lower income homeowners, Brewer said.

Prices will be more for those with higher incomes. Current estimates are between $200,000 and $215,000, but that could change, she said.

Homeowners also will be required to pay $135 per month toward HOA and land lease fees. 

The homes are part of a Community Land Trust, which ensures the homes remain affordable in perpetuity and that homeowners can't sell them for a large profit.

What the homes will look like

All but one of the homes will be two stories and feature a loft-style bedroom and private patio on the second floor.

A kitchen, living room and bathroom will be on the first floor.

The 13th home will be single-story to provide greater accessibility for people with mobility issues.

The homes will feature energy efficient lighting and appliances, solar power and locally-sourced construction materials. 

Each home will face a central courtyard where residents can manage their own kitchen garden.

Residents will have access to a 900-square-foot community building with a kitchen, laundry room, book and game library and tool shed.

The idea is to create a sense of community, which is one aspect of the Micro Estates that attracted Debusk and Copeland.

Delayed timeline

Brewer estimated the project cost at $3.2 million, including land, permits and construction costs. 

Newtown has received nearly $2 million in funding from Tempe, Maricopa County, Wells Fargo, Enterprise Bank & Trust and other partners, Kuby said.

The organization has already secured building permits and the Arizona Department of Real Estate is now reviewing its application for subdivision plats. 

Construction was originally supposed to be completed by mid-2020 but there were delays with zoning and other issues, Brewer said.

Applications for the homes are still open. Interested applicants can get more information on Newtown’s website.

The organization will host a community meeting in the next few weeks to provide an update on the project and more information to prospective homebuyers. 

Copeland and Debusk said there is a lot of community interest in the project, which shows that there is a need for smaller housing and more affordable options in Tempe. They hope the project is replicated in the city and across metro Phoenix, they said.

Reach reporter Paulina Pineda at [email protected] or 602-444-8130. Follow her on Twitter: @paulinapineda22.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

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