COLUMBUS, Ohio (COLUMBUS BUSINESS FIRST) — A group of business leaders led by Columbus attorney John Perez is planning a tiny home development on Columbus’ southeast side that would serve formerly homeless residents.

The gated development called Vista Village initially would include 42 homes, a community center, and a park. It’s slated for a 15-acre site south of Refugee Road and west of Hamilton Road.

“It’s a different and innovative way to provide housing for people who are homeless,” Perez told us. “It’s going to be a quality place to live. The idea is to provide residents dignity where they live, as opposed to crowding them together.”

Perez, who is an attorney at Perez & Morris LLC, and his wife Joan purchased 15 acres from Pulte Homes of Ohio last fall to bring the vision to life. Pulte, a housing developer, had initially planned to expand a nearby single-family housing development between Askins and Courtright Roads, but eventually abandoned its plans, Perez said.

The idea for building tiny homes as a solution to homelessness comes from other U.S. cities, Perez said. Perez’ assistant, Lexi Rogers, who is a graduate student studying social work at Ohio State University, toured tiny home communities in Kansas City, Missouri, and Austin, Texas, to see how they worked.

“There’s a lot of dignity in having your own home, taking care of your property, having a sense of community with a front porch,” Rogers said. “It was a totally different feel than what you’d get at a standard large apartment complex.”

The tiny home community in Kansas City, for example, exclusively serves veterans and provides them with case management, employment, education, financial literacy, and other services.

“We’ve seen this work in other communities,” Perez said.

Perez says each 420-square-foot home in Columbus will contain a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and have a front porch. Each resident will have an individualized plan to transition out of the community within two years as they learn new life skills, get trained for jobs, and receive services.

Residents will pay minimal monthly rent and have access to GED, job training, and other services at the included community center.

“As part of their lease agreement, the individual will abide by a case plan (that) will be a roadmap for the person from homelessness into employment,” Perez said. “We’re looking to transition our folks not into low-paying jobs, but into skilled trades. These are starter homes.”

The first phase of the project will cost an estimated $6 million, two-thirds of which Perez is trying to raise from the private sector. He’s also hoping to eventually secure funding from the city of Columbus and Franklin County. Perez is hoping to get the necessary funding and zoning approvals to start building the project this fall.

“If we really want to change lives, we’ve got to take a different approach,” Perez said.

The project has several influential backers, including executives from Steiner + Associates, developer Jeff Edwards, EMH&T President Sandy Doyle-Ahern, MKSK, and Robert Weiler Co.

Robert Weiler, who also currently serves as chair of the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, said the Columbus area has a growing need for affordable housing of all types.

“There’s no reason in this city or country that we should have anyone who’s homeless or who doesn’t have decent, safe, clean housing when we have the kind of wealth we have,” Weiler told us. “The need is just expanding and we’ve got to do something.”

Weiler said this project is a good option for individuals, but he recognizes that tiny homes aren’t necessarily a good solution for families. However, he said, building smaller homes is a good way to achieve affordability.

“One of the ways to make housing affordable is to reduce the size,” Weiler said. “Building costs keep going up and unfortunately wages have not kept up with the cost of housing and inflation. The only way you’re getting quality new (affordable) housing is by keeping it very small.”

Bruce Daniels, who is owner, partner, and operator in several central Ohio car dealerships, including Honda Marysville and Toyota Direct of Columbus, is a project donor.

Daniels said he likes the fact that the goal of the program is to help the residents eventually move on by setting them up with careers.

Daniels said he plans to provide Vista Village residents with free automotive technician training at his car dealerships and eventually hire those who are interested in making that a career.

“If they’re willing to do the work, it can be pretty lucrative pay,” Daniels said. “It’s the least I can do to give others (a chance) who are willing to work and willing to contribute to society. I think we’re obligated to help them and serve them in some way.”

Daniels said he hopes the concept eventually expands across Ohio.

“This is very much a bridge to a better future,” he said.

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