Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Here's a whole community of tiny houses, built with a giant mission

Struggling Jacksonville residents got a big opportunity in a small package Friday.

The affordable housing nonprofit HabiJax unveiled its new west Jacksonville community of 50 tiny houses available to rent to low-income residents referred to the nonprofit by social service agencies.

HabiJax, the Jacksonville-area Habitat For Humanity, normally deals with homeownership. They connect with struggling and low-income families and give them a chance to purchase affordable homes built by volunteers through a subsidized down payment and assisted mortgage payments.

"We know affordable housing touches both rental and homeownership," CEO Monte Walker said. "This is a departure from the typical habitat model, but it still serves a group of people that are in need of affordable housing. Whether they're renters or homeowners, there's still a great need out there."

The tiny houses that make up the Navaho Avenue neighborhood have about 500 square feet of livable space and are intended for up to two occupants rather than a full family.

Each tiny house contains about 500 square feet of usable space.
Raymon Troncoso
Each tiny house contains about 500 square feet of usable space.

Residents are expected to pay for utilities, excluding water, and pay monthly rent that's adjusted according to their income.

Walker says the 50 households selected for each unit were between 30% to 80% of the median income for the area.

Dixie Merchant is one of the new community's residents set to move in in November. Merchant worked as a social worker for two decades, but became unable to work or take care of herself after a back injury. She became housing insecure and had periods where she lived out of her car.

"I'm blown away, blown away," Merchant said. "I was in such a crisis, and I didn't know what I was going to do. This place is a godsend."

Merchant became connected to the project through Ability Housing, where she submitted her application and was accepted.

According to Walker, the demand for the tiny house community was high, much higher than the 50 spots available. He says it speaks to the drastic need for affordable housing in Jacksonville.

"We're always looking for affordable land and the next new project out there," he said. HabiJax is still doing its regular homeownership program and is also working on securing a large land parcel for a multiunit development, another first for the nonprofit.

"But we're excited about the potential of another tiny homes project in the future."

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.