The Clara White Mission plans to build a village of tiny houses in LaVilla Downtown for homeless veterans and transform the historic Genovar’s Hall into a community center.
According to Clara White Mission board member Michelle Paul, there have been several informal meetings with city officials to discuss the project.
Paul said Clara White intends to have a business plan, site plans and renderings this month. She did say the homes would be fixed on slabs and not on wheeled trailers.
The property is in the Community Redevelopment Area and Church District and is governed by the Downtown Investment Authority.
Paul said the Downtown Investment Authority will require rezoning the property to planned unit development.
Brian Hughes, interim DIA CEO, said the organization has not seen a formal proposal.
“The team at Clara White do great work that is important for those in need, so we look forward to an opportunity to see if their proposal fits our planning,” Hughes said in a text message.
Clara White Mission CEO Ju’Coby Pittman said the organization was looking forward to developing a proposal and sharing the vision with the city.
“Tiny homes are assets to veterans that have gone through our program and it could align with history that Clara White has helped the community,” Pittman said.
“This concept of developing a Tiny House Community, in LaVilla, will create a holistic approach for veterans, that have struggled to have a place to call home,” Pittman said in an email.
Pittman said the initiatives will train veterans new job skills "while preserving the economic and historical fabric of the community by engaging public-private partnerships.”
The 1.46-acre property, bordered by Ashley, Broad, Church and North Jefferson streets, is across the street from Clara White Mission.
The city owns most of the property according to the Duval County Property Appraiser. The mission owns 0.24 acres on the south side of West Ashley Street, which it now uses for parking.
Tom Goldsbury, chief of the city Building Inspection Division, said fixed tiny houses do not meet current building codes and would need code variances.
Eco Relics built a tiny exhibition house with recycled and reclaimed materials.
The plan also would redevelop Genovar’s Hall on the northwest corner of the property as a community center and restore three shotgun houses at the southwest corner of the property.
Genovar’s Hall is a two-story, 8,000-square-foot structure built between 1891 and 1895 by Sebastian Genovar as a grocery store, according to digitalcommons.unf.edu.
The building survived the Great Fire of 1901 and later became the Wynn Hotel with the Lenape Tavern on the first floor. A popular jazz club, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Billie Holiday performed there.
A few attempts have been made to restore Genovar’s Hall, but none were completed.
Paul said the mission plans to seek a state grant to aid the restoration and seek money from sponsors.
Eco Relics owner Annie Murphy plans to partner with Clara White to build the tiny home community.
Murphy said the tiny homes will be about 200 square feet and approximately double the size for those requiring accessibility standards.
The tiny houses would be built by veterans.
Murphy, a proponent of tiny houses and green building, said plans are to involve Operation Tiny Home, an organization offering homebuilding workshops for veterans.
The nonprofit organization travels around the country teaching the construction process from the foundation to finish.
The organization provides veterans hands-on experience with home construction. They learn about types of building materials, the sequence of building, and how each step affects the next, all the way to completion.
The Clara White Mission was founded in 1909 by Eartha M.M. White. The nonprofit mission provides education, vocational training, food, housing and job placement for the homeless.