Monroe County recently finished building a tiny home at 41 Judy Place in Key Largo and invited the public to have a look at an open house on Nov. 21. CHARLOTTE TWINE/Keys Weekly

Nationwide, the tiny home trend is here to stay. Over the past decade, the movement has spawned at least a half-dozen reality TV shows, launched who knows how many “I bought a tiny home” blogs, and taken over our Instagram feeds. 

According to AARP.org, the tiny home, which can be anywhere from 100 to 400 square feet, “reflects the state of the U.S. economy, the still-struggling housing market and a growing conservation ethic to reduce and reuse.” Consequently, local governments have started to take on tiny home projects to address the needs of their tax-paying citizens.

Plus, they are so darn cute.

Monroe County recently finished building a tiny home at 41 Judy Place in Key Largo and invited the public to have a look at an open house on Nov. 21. Keys Weekly stopped by for a tour and to ask Assistant County Administrator Kevin Wilson, who was helping to run the open house, about the project.

“The reason this project started was following Irma, small lots with trailers were destroyed, so we wanted an affordable replacement option for those homes,” he said. He pointed out that replacing a home on a lot after a storm in Monroe County can be challenging to landowners, due to zoning and floodplain regulations, as well as the cost.

Assistant County Administrator Christine Hurley, who was also at the open house, agreed. “The county commission was like, ‘This has to end.’”

The Key Largo tiny home is one home in a pilot project the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners approved in December 2018. The commissioners wanted to be creative in finding products that are wind- and flood-resistant for homeowners to consider as replacements after a disaster or losing their home. The Cornerstone Tiny Homes prototype is a hurricane-rated structure that could be used as an alternative replacement of mobile homes after a disaster. The model home is a little less than 400 square feet, and starts at $85,000 (for the home, without the land).

Wilson said the total cost for the Judy Place house was about $110,000 including the landscaping, driveway and foundation. 

“Depending on your flood regulations, you may need to raise this house up,” he said. Both the house and lot are currently owned by Monroe County.

The prototype has a porch, a kitchen, a bathroom and a combo laundry room/bedroom. Buyers beware: You may want to consult those reality TV shows and blogs for storage ideas, because there is only one closet. 

“[Potential buyers] can watch as many TV shows as they want; they say it always looks bigger,” Cornerstone Tiny Homes CEO Brett Hiltbrand said about the size of the model home that his company built at Judy Place. “They don’t photograph well. You’re not going to raise a four-person family in here. But 50 to 70% of people in need of affordable housing are one- to two-person households.” 

Licensed contractor Hiltbrand, who has built “normal” size homes for many years but has focused on tiny homes for the past six years, has seen an explosion of interest in his product, which he said is the only small-footprint home that is Florida building-code compliant. His company is also expanding: it has 12 employees and is moving to a larger facility.

A buyer from Key West was driving up to the open house that day to put down a deposit, Hiltbrand said, and a landowner in Big Pine Key had just called. “It’s ‘Gotta get my mother out of the nursing home and into the backyard.’ It’s also forward-thinking for counties and cities to address affordable housing.”

Wilson pointed out, “The housing authority is in charge of affordable housing. The county hopes the housing authority will be inspired by this project.”

Cornerstone Tiny Homes COO Kim Hiltbrand said, “We can build these quickly.” Usually the project takes three months, but with the pandemic making materials hard to source, now it takes four. “Everything is all done here, such as plumbing and electric. You just have to hook up water, sewer, electricity and [build] the foundation.” 

She added that depending on the county you live in, she has heard of the homeowner needing only two inspections. So basically plug in and play.

“After the open house, we’ll ask for county employees who are interested to put their names in a hat,” said Wilson. The winner plucked out of the hat will get the Judy Place house. And, presumably, they will go on to create their own reality TV show or blog.

The next open houses for the tiny home at 41 Judy Place will be from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, and Saturday, Dec. 12.
More information on Cornerstone Tiny Homes can be found at www.cornerstonetinyhomes.com.

The tiny home kitchen contains a fridge, oven, cupboard space, overhead microwave and countertop with a sink.
Kevin Wilson, assistant county administrator, stands inside the tiny home at 41 Judy Place in Key Largo.
A layout of the tiny home. CORNERSTONE TINY HOMES/Contributed

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