Monday, August 17, 2015

North St Paul, Minnesota Looks to Cluster Small Modular Homes

Hoping to make use of some recently vacated land, two developers have schemed a way to squeeze in some affordable new build homes onto squat vacant lots that were cleared and pared down to make way for the widening of Maryland Avenue in North St Paul, MN.

The small, modular houses, duplexes, and multi-unit structures would have small footprints and share common courtyard and park space, and potentially laundry facilities.

The East Side Neighborhood Development Company is teaming up with Minneapolis-based housing developer Robert Engstrom Companies to look at installing the petite homes along the south side of Maryland Avenue, just west of where it intersects Payne Avenue.

That stretch of roadway was cleared last year to make way for a left turn lane at the intersection of Payne and Maryland, leaving a block worth of vacant lots. The Ramsey County Public Works department has been adding turn lanes along several major intersections of the arterial roadway.

The development scheme involves installing the housing on one large shared lot, rather than building traditional single-family homes on individual lots, like the block used to be.
They’d use modular techniques where houses were built off-site and then brought in in finished sections.

John Vaughn, director of ESNDC, said the homes could be marketed to millenials looking for their first modestly-sized homes, and to baby boomers who are looking to downsize from a large 2,000 square-foot house.

Jay Nord, project manager from Robert Engstrom Companies, said the idea for the site comes out of an identified need for easy-on-the-pocketbooks new build construction. He said there’s an underserved market of people looking for smaller homes, who have incomes under 80 percent of the area median income.

“There’s just really no housing stock for that category of people to look for,” he said.
This type of project, he stated, is the type of thing developers talk about around the water cooler, but rarely do they have the gumption to follow through on.

Your average developer, Nord asserted, would approach the site and propose affordable rental apartments, as many as could fit.

Save space and money

The idea does look to make more efficient use of the lots -- the development would mean a total of 24 to 30 units in what was once about ten single-family home lots.

The homes would sell for market rate, which would likely mean some subsidy money would be sought to make up the difference between the cost of building and the cost the homes could be sold at.

Nord said a one and a half story home with a footprint of 450 or 500 square feet plus some loft space and a basement could be listed for as little as $95,000.

Vaughn noted that though there will be subsidy and therefore income requirements for homebuyers, your average East Sider already is within the income range to buy a one of these homes.

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